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History of Italian 
Renaissance Art 

Painting • Sculpture • Architecture 


- * 


Frederick Hartt 
David G. Wilkins 


SEVENTH EDITION 




About Pearson/Prentice Hall 


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About the cover 

Some of the most convincing portraitists — Raphael, 
Holbein, Poussin, Ingres- — sharply separated this vein 
of their production from the idealism of their more 
formal work. Raphael, cool and detached by nature, 
seems especially interested in capturing the character 
of Ins sitter, Angelo Don! relaxes outdoors with one 
arm on a balustrade, the shaggy masses of his hair 
reflected in the trees M the lower right, the bulky 
shapes of his arms and hands in the low hills of 
the background. The wealthy wool merchant is 
impressive at thirty — cool, self-contained, firm* 

To learn more about Raphael and Angelo Doni, turn 
to Chapter 1 6 “The Origins of the High Renaissance*"' 

Raphael* Angelo Doni * e. 1506, Panel, 24! x 17:/. 11 (63 



45 cm). Pirn Gallery, Florence. 




#06 tllustrdtu ms* with 6 77 in full color; 5 color maps 





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About the authors 


The late FREDERICK HARTT was one of the most 
distinguished art historians of the twentieth century. 

A student of Berenson, Schapiro, and Friedlaender, he 
taught for more than fifty years, influencing generations 
of Renaissance scholars. At the time of his death he was 
Paul Goodloe Mclntire Professor Emeritus of the History 
of Art at the University of Virginia. He was a knight of 
the Crown of Italy, a Knight Officer of the Order of Merit 
of the Italian Republic, an honorary citizen of Florence, 
and an honorary member of the Academy of the Arts 
of Design, Florence, a society whose charter members 
included Michelangelo and the Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ 
Medici. Professor Hartt authored, among other works, 
Florentine Art under Fire (1949); Botticelli (1952); Giulio 
Romano (1958); Love in Baroque Art (1964); The Chapel 
of the Cardinal of Portugal (1964); three volumes on the 
painting, sculpture, and drawings of Michelangelo (1964, 
1969, 1971); Donatello , Prophet of Modern Vision 
(1974); Michelangelo's Three Pietas (1975); and the 
monumental Art; A History of Painting, Sculpture , 
Architecture . 

DAVID G. WILKINS is professor emeritus of the history 
of art and architecture at the University of Pittsburgh and 
former chair of the department. He also has served on the 
faculties of the University of Michigan in Florence, the 
Semester at Sea Program, and the Duquesne University 
Program in Rome. Professor Wilkins is the author of 
Donatello (1984, with Bonnie A. Bennett); Maso di 
Banco: A Florentine Artist of the Early Trecento (1985); 
The Illustrated Bartsch: “Pre-Rembrandt Etchers,” 
vol. 53 (1985, with Kahren Arbitman); A History of 
the Duquesne Club (1989, with Mark Brown and Lu 
Donnelly); The Art of the Duquesne Club (2001); and 
Art Past/ Art Present (sixth edition, 2007, with Bernard 
Schultz and Katheryn Linduff). He was co-editor of 
The Search for a Patron in the Middle Ages and the 
Renaissance (1996, with Rebecca Wilkins) and Beyond 
Isabella: Secular Women Patrons of Art in Renaissance 
Italy (2001, with Sheryl Reiss), and editor of The Collins 
Big Book of Art (2005) and A Reflection of Faith: St. 

Paul Cathedral , Pittsburgh 3 1906-2006 (2007). In 2005 
he received the College Art Association’s national award 
for the Distinguished Teaching of Art History. 


CENTRA^ 


About the book 


History of Italian Renaissance Art, Seventh Edition, 
brings you an updated understanding of this pivotal 
period as it incorporates new research and current art 
historical thinking, while also maintaining the integrity of 
the story that Frederick Hartt first told so enthusiastically 
many years ago. Choosing to retain Frederick Hartt’s 
traditional framework, David Wilkins’ incisive revisions 
keep the book fresh and up-to-date. 

Newly added works of art reflea our ever-expanding 
understanding of the diversity of the Renaissance period. 
These additions include more drawings and prints, as 
well as examples of porcelain, stained glass, and blown 
glass. The visual culture of the time also encompassed 
inexpensive, mass-produced devotional works, and a 
print known as the Madonna del Fuoco has been added 
as a rare surviving example of this type of work. Several 
more portraits and a new representation of the David and 
Goliath theme expand the exploration of konographic 
themes. More color illustrations can be found throughout, 
with a special emphasis on showing architefcture and 
architectural models in color. An updated bibliography 
provides a guide for further reading about artists and 
major topics. 

David Wilkins brings a strong, contemporary sensibility 
to Italian Renaissance art, revising the text for greater 
clarity, but always with an eye to preserving the evocative 
and compelling voice of the book’s original author. 


“The History of Italian Renaissance A rt just got even 
better! I like the organization and approach. It’s both 
scholarly and accessible.” 

Sara N. James, Mary Baldwin College 

“I’ve been using the book for forty years, from its 
first edition in 1969, since it was, and still is, the best 
available comprehensive overview of the major arts 
of the Italian Renaissance.” 

Robert Munman, University of Illinois at Chicago 

“... consistently rich in its content, reliable in its 
information, and enjoyable for the enthusiasm and 
knowledge of its authors.” 

Catherine Turrill, California State University, Sacramento 



Italian 










History 
of Italian 
Renaissance Art 

Painting • Sculpture • Architecture 

SEVENTH EDITION 


Frederick Hartt 
David G. Wilkins 


Prentice Hall 

Upper Saddle River London Singapore 
Toronto Tokyo Sydney Hong Kong Mexico Ciry 




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Front cover: RAPHAEL. Angelo Doni. c. 1506. Panel, 24 ! /2 x I 7 V 4 
(63 x 45 cm). Pitti Gallery, Florence. Probably commissioned by 
Angelo Doni. 


Frontispiece: PIERO DELLA FRANCESCA. Discovery of the Wood 
of the True Cross (detail), from the Legend of the True Cross. 1450s. 
11'8" x 24 '6" (3.56x7.47 m). 


Copyright © 2011, 2007 Pearson Education, Inc., publishing as Prentice Hall, 1 Lake St., Upper Saddle 
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 

Hartt, Frederick. 

History of Italian Renaissance Art: painting, sculpture, architecture/Frederick Hartt, David G. Wilkins. — 7th ed. 


p. cm. 

Includes bibliographical references and index. 

ISBN 978-0-205-70581-8 (pbk.) 

1. Art, Italian. 2. Art, Renaissance — Italy. I. Wilkins, David G. II. Title. 
N6915.H37 2009 
709.45*09024 — dc22 


2009033197 


10 987654321 


Prentice Hall 

is an imprint of 



www.peaisonhighered.com 


ISBN 10: 0-205-70581-2 
ISBN 13: 978-0-205-70581-8 




CONTENTS 


Preface 8 

1 PRELUDE: 

ITALY AND ITALIAN ART 16 

Representing This World 17 
The Role of Antiquity 18 
The Cities 20 

The Guilds and the Status of the Artist 24 

The Artist at Work 25 

The Products of the Painter’s Bottega 25 

The Practice of Drawing 27 

The Practice of Painting 28 

The Practice of Sculpture 33 

The Practice of Architecture 34 

Printmaking in the Renaissance 36 

The Practice of History 36 

The Practice of Art History: Giorgio Vasari 37 

PART ONE 

THE LATE 
MIDDLE AGES 

2 DUECENTO ART IN TUSCANY 

AND ROME 40 

Painting in Pisa 42 
Painting in Lucca 44 
Painting in Florence 45 
Painting in Rome 53 
Sculpture 57 
Architecture 64 

3 FLORENTINE ART OF 

THE EARLY TRECENTO 72 

Giotto 73 

Florentine Painters after Giotto 95 
Sculpture 100 


4 SIENESE ART OF 

THE EARLY TRECENTO 102 

Duccio 103 

Simone Martini iio 

Pietro Lorenzetti 1 1 9 

Ambrogio Lorenzetti 122 

Orvieto Cathedral 128 

The Master of the Triumph of Death 134 

5 LATER GOTHIC ART IN TUSCANY 

AND NORTHERN ITALY 136 

Mid-Trecento Art in Florence 138 

Late Gothic Painting and the International Style 145 

Painting and Sculpture in Northern Italy 149 

PART TWO 

THE 

QUATTROCENTO 

6 THE RENAISSANCE BEGINS: 

ARCHITECTURE 158 

The Role of the Medici Family 160 

Filippo Brunelleschi and Linear Perspective 161 

The Dome of Florence Cathedral 164 

The Ospedale degli Innocenti 168 

Brunelleschi’s Sacristy for San Lorenzo 170 

San Lorenzo and Santo Spirito 170 

Santa Maria degli Angeli 173 

The Pazzi Chapel 174 

The Medici Palace and 

Michelozzi di Bartolommeo 174 

7 TRANSITIONS IN TUSCAN 

SCULPTURE 180 

The Competition Panels 18 1 
Ghiberti to 1425 183 

Donatello to 1420 188 

Nanni di Banco 193 
Donatello (c. 1420 to c. 1435) 196 

Jacopo della Quercia 199 


CONTENTS • 


5 


8 TRANSITIONS IN FLORENTINE 

PAINTING 202 

Gentile da Fabriano 203 
Masolino and Masaccio 206 
Popular Devotion and Prints 220 

9 THE HERITAGE OF MASACCIO: 

FRA ANGELICO AND 

FRA FILIPPO LIPPI 


14 


11 


12 


222 


10 


Fra Angelico 224 
Fra Filippo Lippi 232 

FLORENTINE ARCHITECTURE 
AND SCULPTURE, c. 1430-1455 

Alberti 239 
Ghiberti after 1425 249 

Luca della Robbia 25 1 
Donatello (c. 1433 to c. 1455) 254 

Florentine Tomb Sculpture 261 
The Portrait Bust 261 

FLORENTINE PAINTING AT 
MID-CENTURY 

Paolo Uccello 263 
Domenico Veneziano 267 
Andrea del Castagno 271 
Piero della Francesca 278 

ART IN FLORENCE 
UNDER THE MEDICI I 

Donatello after 1453 298 

Desiderio da Settignano 302 

The Chapel of the Cardinal of Portugal 303 

Benedetto and Giuliano da Maiano 306 

Giuliano da Sangallo 309 

Benozzo Gozzoli 312 

Baldovinetti and Pesellino 313 


13 ART IN FLORENCE 
UNDER THE MEDICI II 

Antonio del Pollaiuolo 320 
Andrea del Verrocchio 327 
Renaissance Cassoni 331 
Alessandro Botticelli 332 
Filippino Lippi 347 
Domenico del Ghirlandaio 350 
Piero di Cosimo 356 


238 


262 


294 


318 


THE RENAISSANCE IN 
CENTRAL ITALY 

Siena 359 

Sassetta 361 

Domenico di Bartolo 362 

Matteo di Giovanni 364 

Vecchietta 364 

Francesco di Giorgio 365 

Neroccio de’ Landi 367 

Perugia 369 

Perugino 369 

Pintoricchio 374 

Melozzo da Forli 376 

The Laurana Brothers and Urbino 

Naples 384 

Luca Signorelli 385 


358 


378 


15 GOTHIC AND RENAISSANCE 
IN VENICE AND 
NORTHERN ITALY 

Pisanello 389 

Early Quattrocento Art and Architecture 
in Venice 393 
Jacopo Bellini 395 
Andrea Mantegna 397 
Mantegna and Isabella d’Este 408 
Gentile Bellini 41 1 
Antonello da Messina 412 
Giovanni Bellini 415 
Vittore Carpaccio 421 
Carlo Crivelli 425 
Venetian Fabrics 426 
Venetian Publishing 426 
Late Quattrocento Sculpture and Architecture 
in Venice 428 

Late Quattrocento Art in Milan 433 
Vincenzo Foppa 433 
Filarete 433 

Quattrocento Painting in Ferrara 434 
North Italian Terra-Cotta Sculpture 440 


388 


6 • CONTENTS 


PART THREE 

THE 

CINQUECENTO 

16 THE ORIGINS OF THE 

HIGH RENAISSANCE 442 

Leonardo da Vinci 443 
Michelangelo to 1505 469 

Raphael in Perugia and Florence 480 
Fra Bartolommeo 484 

17 THE HIGH RENAISSANCE 

IN ROME 486 

Donato Bramante 489 
Michelangelo 1505 to 1516 496 

Raphael in Rome 515 

IS NEW DEVELOPMENTS 

c. 1520-50 54 2 

Michelangelo 1516tol533 544 

Andrea del Sarto 555 
Pontormo 558 
Rosso Fiorentino 563 
Perino del Vaga 565 
Domenico Beccafumi 567 
Properzia de’ Rossi 570 
Correggio 572 
Parmigianino 577 
Pordenone 580 

Antonio da Sangallo the Elder and the Younger 581 
Baldassare Peruzzi 586 
Giulio Romano 586 

19 HIGH AND LATE RENAISSANCE 
IN VENICE AND ON 
THE MAINLAND 59° 

Giorgione 592 
Titian 596 
Lorenzo Lotto 613 
Tullio Lombardo 616 
Painting in Northern Italy 617 
Tintoretto 624 
Paolo Veronese 632 
Jacopo Bassano 639 
Michele Sanmicheli 639 


Jacopo Sansovino 641 
Andrea Palladio 643 
Alessandro Vittoria 647 

20 THE LATE 

SIXTEENTH CENTURY 648 

Michelangelo after 1534 649 

Art at the Medici Court 660 

Benvenuto Cellini 662 

Bartolommeo Ammanati 665 

Giovanni Bologna 667 

Agnolo Bronzino and Francesco Salviati 669 

Later Ceramic Production 674 

Giorgio Vasari and the Studiolo 676 

Developments Elsewhere 681 

Giuseppe Arcimboldo 681 

Lavinia Fontana 682 

Giacomo da Vignola and Giacomo della Porta 683 
Federico Barocci 687 
Fede Galizia 689 
Caravaggio 689 

Sixtus V and the Urban Plan of Rome 691 


Glossary 

692 

Bibliography 

700 

Locating Works of Renaissance 


Art 

7 I 5 

Index 

716 

Photo Credits 

735 

Literary Credits 

736 


CONTENTS • 


7 


PREFACE 


The History of History of Italian Renaissance Art 


W hen Frederick Hartt’s History of Italian Renaissance 
Art was first published more than forty years ago, it 
was a remarkable achievement. A large volume with 
dozens of color plates, it presented the story of Italian 
Renaissance painting, sculpture, and architecture as it was 
appreciated and understood by one of the great scholars 
and inspiring teachers of the period. Professor Hartt used 
evocative and poetic language to describe the works that 
he been teaching about for decades, and the book was an 
instant success. Each of Hartt’s analyses was intended to 
send the reader back for another, closer look at the work 
of art. He was unapologetic about his enthusiasm for these 
works and determined to point out the beauty, skill, and 
optimism that, for him, were among the essential contribu- 
tions of Renaissance art to the history of humanity. 

Professor Hartt knew Italy and its artistic monuments 
well. He served in the United States Army in World War II 
as a member of the Allied Commission for Monuments, 
Fine Arts, and Archives — a group charged with, among 
other duties, safeguarding works of art. He arrived in Flo- 
rence in August 1944, soon after the Germans retreated, 
having bombed all the city’s bridges except the historic 
Ponte Vecchio. Hartt played a crucial role in the documen- 
tation and protection of works of art hidden from the 
Germans and the restoration of monuments in Florence, 
recording these experiences in a book entitled Florentine 
Art Under Fire (1949). He also participated in the relief 
efforts that took place after the disastrous flood of the 
Arno River in Florence on November 4, 1966. As a result 
of his work on behalf of Italian art and culture, he was 
named a Knight of the Crown of Italy, an Officer of the 
Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, an honorary citizen 
of Florence, and an honorary member of the Accademia 
founded in Florence in the late sixteenth century. He died 
in 1991, and was buried at the famous Florentine cemetery 
at San Miniato, overlooking the city he loved. 

The history of Italian Renaissance art can be told in a 
number of different ways. Hartt’s approach had its origins 
in the first history of Renaissance art, written by Giorgio 
Vasari in the sixteenth century. Like Vasari, Hartt empha- 
sized works created in Florence, Rome, Siena, and Venice. 
While there is much that is worthy of attention in the art 
created in Naples, Milan, Ferrara, and other centers during 
the Renaissance, to include this material in detail would 
have detracted from Hartt’s thesis that Renaissance art 
evolved in Florence and had its most fulfilling later devel- 


opment in Rome and Venice. His understanding that each 
of these cities evolved a unique style was the basis for his 
organization of his chapters around the developments in 
these centers. Such an approach remains appropriate, for 
the story of each city’s art has an internal integrity that can 
be related to its political structure and social development. 

Vasari’s Lives of the Artists , Hartt’s model, was organ- 
ized as a chronological series of biographies that discussed 
each artist as a creative individual. Hartt also chose to 
discuss each artist independently, although the careers of 
Ghiberti, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Raphael are 
divided over different chapters. While such an organiza- 
tion provides readers with a strong sense of the distinctive 
development of each artist, it also requires that they re- 
create how artists overlap in time and how a chronological 
understanding of events and works is helpful in analyzing 
the art of this period. Such a biographical emphasis often 
ignores the broader social and historical context within 
which these works were created — factors that have become 
more important in the study of art in recent decades. 

Professor Hartt revised and expanded History of Italian 
Renaissance Art twice before his death in 1991. In 1993, 1 
was invited to continue this process, and the fourth edition 
was published in 1994. As I set about updating Hartt’s 
history in 1993-94, I was determined to maintain the 
integrity of the story that he first told so enthusiastically. I 
retained the basic organization of his text and the works 
discussed were those he originally chose. The fifth and 
sixth editions (2001 and 2006) had color illustrations 
throughout the text rather than plates, and included new 
works chosen to enrich the story Professor Hartt had laid 
out more than thirty years earlier. In these subsequent edi- 
tions, I have introduced a number of views that show 
Renaissance fresco cycles in their original context. In addi- 
tion, I have added new works that expand our understand- 
ing of the diversity of the visual culture of the period, 
including prints, ceramics, portrait medals, an illuminated 
manuscript, a printed book, an enameled reliquary, addi- 
tional examples of drawings, and works in terra-cotta, 
stained glass, and tapestry. A photograph of the marble 
quarries at Carrara suggests the difficulties Michelangelo 
faced in finding the quality of marble that he felt was nec- 
essary for his works. Digitized reconstructions increase our 
understanding by suggesting the original appearance of 
certain important works. I have also added illustrations of 
some of the monuments of ancient Roman architecture 


8 • PREFACE 


and sculpture that were available for study by artists 
during this period. While Hartt emphasized religious art, I 
have increased the proportion of secular works, including 
cassoni panels and a desco da parto — works made to cele- 
brate the family at the time of weddings or births. The 
addition of the names of patrons to the captions and of a 
series of portraits of patrons and personalities enrich our 
knowledge of the context within which these works were 
created. The emphasis throughout, however, has remained 
as Hartt originally envisioned it — on the work of art and 
on the individual creator rather than on the social and his- 
torical context. 

Prior to the fifth edition (2001), History of Italian 
Renaissance Art contained no discussion of works by 
women artists. This seventh edition includes six works by 
four of the determined women who were able to practice 
as artists during this period. In addition, works commis- 
sioned by women (including architecture) are discussed, 
and portraits of women encourage consideration of the 
attitudes held toward women during this period. 

Despite the fact that scholars and enthusiasts have been 
writing passionately about Italian Renaissance art since the 
sixteenth century, the impressive number of recent publica- 
tions indicates there is still much to learn about this 
complex period. If I were to try to encompass even a 
portion of the new scholarship published since the sixth 
edition, this volume would have to expand dramatically. 
The updated bibliography provides a guide for further 
reading on the many artists and topics discussed here. 

Because location was such an important consideration 
in the design of Renaissance works of art, paintings and 
sculptures that are still in their original settings — with the 
exception of obvious examples of frescoes, mosaics, and 
facade sculptures — are indicated by a It in the captions. 
For works today in private collections or museums, the 
original locations, if known, can be found in the captions. 

What’s New in this Edition 

There are more color illustrations, with a special emphasis 
on showing architecture and architectural models in color. 
The portrait medals are all reproduced to scale (see figs. 
6.2-6.3, 10.2-10.3, 12.4-12.5, 15.6-15.7, 15.29, 17.2, 
17.11). The text has been rewritten for greater clarity, but 
always with an eye to preserving the evocative and com- 
pelling voice of the book’s original author. Additional 
selections from primary sources have been added: Ves- 
pasiano da Bisticci’s description of Duke Federico da Mon- 
tefeltro’s library at Urbino, Giovanni Rucellai’s comments 
on the satisfaction he gained from the works of architec- 
ture he commissioned, and Vasari’s description of how 
Raphael engaged Marcantonio Raimondi to produce 


engravings after his drawings and paintings. Some chapters 
have been retitled to reflect their content more accurately. 
A greater diversity of media is evident with the addition of 
more drawings and prints, as well as examples of porce- 
lain, stained glass, and blown glass. The exploration of 
iconographic themes is expanded with the addition of 
several portraits and a new representation of the David 
and Goliath theme. A new section on “Locating Renais- 
sance Works of Art” (p. 715) will help teachers, students, 
and travelers locate works from the period in American 
and European museums. 

1 Prelude: Italy and Italian Art 

New additions in this chapter include an ancient Roman 
relief that was known during the Renaissance, a print 
showing artists and an artist’s workshop, and one of the 
drawings that Vasari included in his personal collection. A 
new section discusses techniques of printmaking during 
this period. 

2 Duecento Art in Tuscany and Rome 

The plans of the major churches in this chapter have been 
expanded to include their respective monastic complexes, 
with numbers indicating the location of artworks illus- 
trated in the book. 

3 Florentine Art of the Early Trecento 

This chapter offers an expansive discussion of Giotto’s 
Arena Chapel frescoes and discusses his influence on later 
Trecento painters. 

4 Sienese Art of the Early Trecento 

Duccio and his followers are here covered in detail. The 
iconographic diagrams for Duccio’s Maesta are simplified 
and shown in black and white to make the numbering 
clear, while the placement of the reconstructions on facing 
pages adds clarity to the discussion. 

5 Later Gothic Art in Tuscany and Northern Italy 

Several additions enrich this chapter, including a color 
view of Orcagna’s Assumption relief at Orsanmichele. A 
new medium is emphasized by the addition of the stained- 
glass rose window at Santa Maria Novella. Also new to 
this edition is the discussion of how medieval geometry 
and proportional systems provided a basis for Italian 
Gothic architecture, as demonstrated in the diagram of the 
proportional scheme planned for Milan Cathedral. 

6 The Renaissance Begins: Architecture 

The developments that took place in Florentine art during 
the Quattrocento had a widespread influence and are the 
subject of this and the next seven chapters. This chapter 


PREFACE • 


9 


includes photographs of a reconstructed model and a 
diagram of one of Brunelleschi’s devices for displaying per- 
spective and clarifies the construction and engineering of 
Brunelleschi’s dome for Florence Cathedral through new 
illustrations that include the herringbone brickwork, a 
model of the dome, and a reconstruction drawing of two 
of the machines Brunelleschi invented to aid construction 
combined with a section that shows the wooden and stone 
chains and other details. Brunelleschi’s use of proportion is 
made evident in a section of his revolutionary San Lorenzo 
sacristy. A view of the Medici Palace today and recon- 
structed ground plans increase our understanding of the 
original structure. 

7 Transitions in Tuscan Sculpture 

The text in this chapter has been tightened and focused to 
emphasize the innovations made by Ghiberti, Donatello, 
Nanni di Banco, and Jacopo della Quercia. 

8 Transitions in Florentine Painting 

The visual culture of the period included inexpensive, 
mass-produced devotional works. One of the rare surviv- 
ing examples, a print known as the Madonna del Fuoco , 
has been added to this chapter. 

9 The Heritage of Masaccio: Fra Angelico and 
Fra Filippo Lippi 

To emphasize the importance of Masaccio’s innovations 
in painting, this chapter focuses on two painters who 
accepted the new style and then transformed it. An impor- 
tant feature in this chapter is a digital reconstruction of the 
framing for Angelico’s San Marco altarpiece. 

10 Florentine Architecture and Sculpture, 
c. 1430-55 

This chapter continues the discussion of works by Alberti, 
Ghiberti, and Donatello, among others. 

11 Florentine Painting at Mid-Century 

This chapter demonstrates how the styles of Castagno, 
Uccello, Domenico Veneziano, and Piero della Francesca 
reference and expand upon the innovations of Masaccio. 

12 Art in Florence Under the Medici I 

New illustrations include a broad view of the front of one 
of Donatello’s San Lorenzo pulpits and a more panoramic 
view of the interior of Santa Maria delle Carceri in Prato. 

13 Art in Florence Under the Medici II 

This chapter brings the Florentine Quattrocento to a close 
with works by Pollaiuolo, Verrochio, Botticelli, Filippino 
Lippi, and Ghirlandaio. Verrocchio’s Equestrian Monu- 


ment of Bartolommeo Colleoni is illustrated after cleaning. 
The works of Piero di Cosimo have been moved here. 

14 The Renaissance in Central Italy 

To expand our understanding of the impact of the Renais- 
sance in Siena, two works by Neroccio de’ Landi have been 
added: a female portrait, reproduced with its original 
frame, and his representation of a woman from ancient 
history, Claudia Quinta — part of a series of famous men 
and women. A new view of Luciano Laurana’s courtyard 
at the Palazzo Ducale, Urbino, demonstrates the innova- 
tions of this important architectural monument. Art in 
Naples receives more attention with the inclusion of 
Alfonso of Aragon’s triumphal arch at the Castel Nuovo. 
The works of Signorelli have been moved to this chapter. 

15 Gothic and Renaissance in Venice and 
Northern Italy 

The reworking of this chapter has been extensive, with 
additions that include the Gothic palace known as the Ca 
d’Oro in Venice, a print of a mythological subject by Man- 
tegna, an Italian textile of the period, a printed book with 
painted decoration, and three new Venetian sculptures, 
one of which is the tomb of a doge. 

16 The Origins of the High Renaissance 
Additional works by Leonardo and Michelangelo enrich 
this chapter. A detail of the areas Leonardo painted on 
Verrocchio’s Baptism establishes the revolutionary nature 
of his style from an early age. The treatment of the Last 
Supper is expanded by the addition of a preparatory 
drawing and a print after the fresco that shows details now 
lost because of the work’s condition. New illustrations of 
Leonardo’s Burlington House Cartoon and a drawing by 
Michelangelo for the Battle of Cascina bring us into inti- 
mate contact with the artists. Michelangelo’s St. Matthew 
for the Duomo in Florence has been added to demonstrate 
his earliest use of the figura serpentinata . 

1 7 The High Renaissance in Rome 

Additions to this chapter include an illustration that clari- 
fies Bramante’s design for the Belvedere Palace, Michelan- 
gelo’s spandrel of David and Goliath in the Sistine Chapel, 
Raphael’s cartoon for the School of Athens , and Sebas- 
tiano del Piombo’s Raising of Lazarus . 

18 New Developments c. 1520-50 

Because the term “Mannerism” has become so inclusive 
as to be almost meaningless, in this edition the term is 
avoided. “Florentine court style” is used instead to define 
the characteristics of the new style that developed in 
Florence after the High Renaissance. During the sixteenth 


IO • PREFACE 



century, prints, a relatively inexpensive medium, became a 
popular means by which monuments and styles were 
circulated in Europe. New additions in this chapter include 
a chiaroscuro woodblock print after a design by Parmi- 
gianino and one of the artists’ portraits that illustrated 
Vasari’s Lives . 

19 High and Late Renaissance in Venice and on 
the Mainland 

A world map published in Venice in 1511 emphasizes the 
new global understanding that emerged from exploration 
and trade at this time, while a glass Nef exemplifies Venet- 
ian glass production. Three additional north Italian por- 
traits expand our understanding of the new roles being 
played by portraiture in Renaissance society, while each 
emphasizes the luxury textiles that were a part of Italian 
commercial success during the Renaissance. 

20 The Late Sixteenth Century 

New works in this chapter demonstrate the variety of 
Italian art at this time and reveal how Renaissance devel- 
opments laid the groundwork for seventeenth-century art. 
They include Giambologna’s Mercury , Arcimboldo’s Fire , 
the church of II Gesu in Rome, a portrait by Fede Galizia, 
and Caravaggio’s Madonna di Loreto . To demonstrate the 
impact of global trade on the Renaissance, an example of 
porcelain inspired by Chinese models has been added. 

Acknowledgments 

I owe special thanks to my teachers at Oberlin College, 
Ohio — Paul Arnold, Barry McGill, Charles Parkhurst, and 
Wolfgang Stechow. For my education at the University of 
Michigan I owe thanks to Ludovico Borgo, Eleanor 
Collins, Marvin Eisenberg, Ilene Forsyth, Oleg Grabar, 
Victor Meisel, Clifton Olds, James Snyder, Harold Wethey, 
and Nathan Whitman. In preparing this seventh edition I 
want to thank a number of individuals for their assistance, 
including my family — Ann, Rebecca, and Katherine 
Wilkins and Chris and Sofia Colborn; Ann’s knowledge of 


the subtleties of grammar and her demands for greater pre- 
cision in language consistently improved the text. I also 
wish to thank past and present students and colleagues at 
the University of Pittsburgh — Bonnie Apgar Bennett, Kath- 
leen Christian, Derek Churchill, Patrizia Costa, Jennifer 
Craven, Roger Crum, Britta Dwyer, Holly Ginchereau, 
Ann Sutherland Harris, Kathy Johnston-Keane, Sarah 
Cameron Loyd, Erin Marr, Margaret McGill, Stacey 
Mitchell, Mary Pardo, Rosi Prieto, Azar Rejaie, David 
Rigo, Bernie Schultz, Greg Smith, David Summers, 
Franklin Toker, and Jim Wilkinson. Others who have made 
useful suggestions include Amy Bloch, Jonathon Nelson, 
Mark Rosen, and John Varriano. Among the friends in 
Italy who have provided support and nourishment are 
Roberta Aronson, Enrico Capparucci, Giuliana Serroni, 
and Michael Wright. Previous editions profited from the 
thoughtful assistance of the staff at Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 
and, above all, Julia Moore and Cynthia Henthorn. The 
splendid digital reconstructions are the work of Lew Minter 
of Lafayette College, Pennsylvania. For this seventh 
edition, I owe thanks to Sarah Touborg and Helen Ronan 
at Pearson/Prentice-Hall, and at Laurence King Publishing 
to the development editor Kara Hattersley-Smith, project 
manager Nicola Hodgson, picture researcher Sue Bolsom, 
and designer Paul Tilby. 

I would also like to thank these manuscript reviewers: 

• Sarah Nair James, Mary Baldwin College, Virginia 

• Rosi Prieto, California State University, Sacramento 

• Shelley C. Stone, California State University, Bakersfield 

• Catherine Turrill, California State University, 
Sacramento 

I am especially indebted to Robert Munman, University of 
Illinois at Chicago, whose review of the sixth edition made 
many helpful suggestions for corrections, additions, and 
improvements. 

In conclusion, my hearty thanks to all. Errors and omis- 
sions are, as always, my responsibility alone. 

DAVID G. WILKINS 
Silver Lake, New Hampshire, 2009 


• II 


PREFACE 



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E A 


1 

PRELUDE: ITALY AND ITALIAN ART 


T he matrix of Italian art is Italy itself (fig. 1.1). 

The variety of the landscape transforms a 
country roughly the size of California into a 
subcontinent, harboring an infinity of pictorial 
surprises. Alpine masses shining with snow 
in midsummer, fantastic Dolomitic crags, turquoise lakes 
reflecting sunlight onto cliffs, fertile plains, poplar- 
bordered rivers, sandy beaches, Apennine mountain chains 
enclosing green valleys, vast pasture lands, glittering bays 
enclosed by mountains, volcanic islands, dark forests, 
eroded deserts, gentle hills — all combine to make up the 
land of Italy. The variety of natural elements and the way 
in which the mountains separate one area from another 
also help to explain the diversity of Italian art created in 
various centers during the Renaissance. 

But not all the beauty of Italy was provided by nature. 
The country and its people have made their peace in an 
extraordinary way. Many towns and even some large cities 
do not lie in the valleys but are perched on hilltops, some- 
times at dizzying heights. The reason for such positions 
is not hard to understand, for most Italian towns were 
founded when defense was essential. At the same time, the 
views from their ramparts offered the inhabitants not only 
a military but also an intellectual command of surrounding 
nature. Where the land is fertile, those hills that are not 
crowned with villages, castles, or villas have been turned 
into stepped gardens, with terraces where wheat, the olive, 
and the vine — those essentials of Italian civilization — grow 
together. Only here and there does one come across wild 
tracts that have defied attempts at cultivation. Agriculture 
and forests are submitted to the ordering intelligence of 
human activity. On the Lombard plains, plots of woodland 

Opposite: 1.1. Map of Italy. 


are marshaled in battalions; like perfect sentinels, cypresses 
guard the Tuscan hills. Three-hundred-year-old olive trees 
shimmer in gray and silver, winter and summer alike. The 
Italian climate is less gentle than its reputation; even in 
southern Italy and Sicily, winter can be dark and wet, while 
throughout the peninsula summer can be hot, autumn 
rainy, and spring capricious. Yet in three millennia of 
stormy marriage with the land, the Italians have created a 
harmony between human life and the natural world that is 
seldom found elsewhere. 

During the modern era, the forces of industrialization 
have drained some historic hill farms of their population. 
Stone farmhouses now stand abandoned among untended 
olive trees and crumbling terraces. But one can still experi- 
ence the Italian concord with nature. Country roads can 
be traveled, and hill farms are worked by pairs of long- 
horned oxen. Views across lines of cypresses and up rocky 
ledges reveal what might be the background of a fresco by 
Benozzo Gozzoli. The vast Umbrian spaces are much as 
Perugino saw them, and the woods in the Venetian plain 
seem ready to disclose a nymph and satyr from the paint- 
ings of Giovanni Bellini. 

Representing This World 

Some of the earliest attempts at naturalistic representation 
found in Italian painting document the local landscape: 
Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s view of the countryside around 
Siena in his Allegory of Good Government in the City and 
Country (see fig. 4.28), for example, or the Tuscan fields 
that Gentile da Fabriano placed behind a fleeing Holy 
Family in the Flight into Egypt (see fig. 8.4). It might be 
said that the history of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century 
painting in Italy can be understood as an attempt by artists 
to capture naturalism. During these centuries painters 


PRELUDE: ITALY AND ITALIAN ART • 1J 


experimented, trying to learn how to represent on a two- 
dimensional surface what is seen by the human eye: the 
effect of receding space we experience as we move in the 
world, the bulk and weight of figures and objects and their 
tie to gravity, and the softening effects of atmosphere in a 
landscape view. Sculptors from the same period gradually 
realized how to represent figures in positions that suggest 
the potential for movement, wearing clothing that seemed 
to respond to new, naturalistic poses. An example of this 
would be Donatello’s St. Mark (see fig. 7.12). When the 
word “naturalism” is used in this book, it is describing the 
broad effects outlined above. 

In discussing art, a difference is usually established 
between naturalism and realism. While naturalism refers 
to the attempt to mimic what we see, realism refers to the 
representation of the real world without idealization. 
Realism is less common in Italian Renaissance art because 
of the strong interest shown by patrons and artists in the 
notion of ideal beauty; see, for example, Michelangelo’s 
David or Raphael’s Donna Velata (see figs. 16.1, 17.54). 
Among the relatively rare examples of realism during the 
Renaissance, we might cite Masaccio’s painting of a shiv- 
ering man waiting to be baptized in a cold river, or Fede 
Galizia’s Portrait of Paolo Morigia (see figs. 8.1, 20.57). 
After the introduction of oil paint into Italy some artists 
tried to represent the effect of light as it hits every fold of 
silk in a lustrous fabric, as in Moretto’s Portrait of a Young 
Man (see fig. 19.35), or every wrinkle in an old man’s face, 
as, again, in Galizia’s Portrait of Paolo Morigia ; such 
effects are described as naturalistic or realistic detail, 
respectively. Representing the world around them is one of 
the important ways in which Renaissance artists articu- 
lated the new ideas circulating in cities on the Italian 


peninsula during this period. The interest in the real world 
expressed by naturalism and realism is yet another reason 
why the Renaissance has recently been described as the 
beginning of the Early Modern Period. 

The Role of Antiquity 

The harmony with nature discussed above helps explain 
why Italian Renaissance art is distinctive. Another factor is 
the survival of artistic and architectural monuments from 
the culture of ancient Rome: sarcophagi, sculptures, and 
coins were abundant, as were fragments of architectural 
structures, some of which had been reused as decoration 
and/or structure in medieval buildings. Entire ancient mon- 
uments seldom survived; one exception is the Pantheon in 
Rome, the impressive dome of which soars 144 feet above 
the floor (fig. 1.2). The domes of both Florence Cathedral 
and St. Peter’s in Rome (see figs. 6.7, 17.14, 20.11) were 
responses to the challenge proffered by the dome of the 
Pantheon. Also in Rome was the grand ruin of the Colos- 
seum (fig. 1.3), the fabric of which had been mined for 
centuries because it provided an abundant source of cut 
stone; only when Pope Benedict XIV halted the destruction 
in 1749 was the Colosseum saved. The half-columns of 
the Colosseum’s exterior provided Renaissance architects 
with a demonstration of how the Greek architectural 
orders could be applied to a structure, influencing 
such monuments as Leonbattista Alberti’s Palazzo Rucellai 
(see fig. 10.5). 

Even an ancient coin or the fragmentary torso of a 
sculpted figure could provide inspiration to Renaissance 
artists. Ancient works were presumed to be illustrations of 
ancient life. Renaissance artists and architects made 



1.2. The ancient Roman Pantheon, built 123-25 CE, in a 
cut-away illustration from Antonio Lafreri’s Speculum Romanae 
magnificentiae . Engraving, 1564. British Museum, London. 





1.3. The ancient Roman amphitheater known as the Colosseum, 
built 72-80 ce, from Antonio Lafreri’s Speculum Romanae 
magnificentiae. Engraving, 1564. British Museum, London. 


I 8 • THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 



drawings from ancient Roman remains, and humanists 
and artists were excited when new examples were found. 
In 1506 the heroic group of Laocoon and His Sons (see fig. 
17.3) was discovered in the ruins of the Golden House of 
Nero in Rome. The dramatic physical and emotional strug- 
gle seen in these figures had an almost immediate impact 
on the works of Michelangelo; see, for example, figures 
17.42-17.43. Another important discovery was a fragment 
that became known as the Belvedere Torso (see fig. 17.4) 
because it was installed in the new Belvedere Palace (see 
fig. 17.17), now part of the Vatican Museums. The bronze 
equestrian monument of the Roman emperor Marcus 
Aurelius (fig. 1.4) had been visible in Rome throughout 
the Middle Ages, when it was revered because it was 
presumed to be a portrait of the Emperor Constantine, 
who had allowed Christianity to be practiced freely within 
the Roman Empire. During the Renaissance, the statue 



1.4. Equestrian Monument to Marcus Aurelius. 161-80 CE. Bronze 
(originally gilded), over-life-sized. In the Renaissance, this monument 
became the centerpiece for the piazza on the Capitoline Hill (see figs. 
20.12-20.13). This image shows the statue before it was cleaned and 
moved to the Capitoline Museum, Rome. A replica now stands in its 
place on the Capitoline Hill. 


was appreciated as an impressive work of art, and it 
played a role in inspiring Donatello’s and Verrocchio’s 
monuments to contemporary mercenary generals (see figs. 
10.23, 13.16). 

One of the best-preserved examples of the ideal nude 
male figure available during the Renaissance was the 
Apollo Belvedere (fig. 1.5). When and where this sculpture 



1.5. Apollo Belvedere. Second century ce. Marble, 7'4" (2.2 m). 
Vatican, Rome. Ancient Roman copy of a bronze sculpture of the 
fourth century BCE, perhaps by the ancient Greek sculptor Leochares. 
The sculpture takes its name from its placement, by 1511, in the 
Belvedere Palace in the Vatican. The figure probably originally held 
arrows in his left hand. 

The Vatican Museums, which can trace their origins back to the 
sixteenth century, include the collections gathered or commissioned 
by the papacy. They are especially rich in ancient and early Christian 
sculpture and in paintings once in St. Peter’s Basilica or in Roman 
churches. This complex also includes the Sistine Chapel, with 
Renaissance paintings of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries (see 
figs. 17.1, 17.23). The tapestries that once decorated the chapel’s 
lower walls are in another part of the museum. There is also now 
a section devoted to modern religious art. 


PRELUDE: ITALY AND ITALIAN ART * 19 




was discovered is unknown, but it was in the papal collec- 
tions by 1509 and in the Belvedere by 1511. Some of 
Michelangelo’s works can be compared to the Apollo 
Belvedere , including Bacchus and Christ in the early Pieta 
(see figs. 16.36-16.37), but in general Michelangelo added 
a level of emotional expression not found in the Apollo. 

Several other types of ancient sculpture also provided 
inspiration, including sarcophagi (see fig. 2.22), standing 
male figures wearing togas or armor, and relief sculptures. 
The large relief of Marcus Aurelius Sacrificing Before the 
Capitoline Temple (fig. 1.6) probably originally decorated 
a triumphal arch. At least thirteen Renaissance drawings of 
this relief are known. The high-relief figure of Marcus 
Aurelius, to the left of center, stands in the relaxed position 
known as contrapposto — a pose common in Greek and 
Roman sculpture and often adopted during the Renais- 
sance (see fig. 7.12) — while the manner in which his toga 
both conceals and reveals his body can be compared to 
similar effects in Renaissance figures by Donatello and 
Nanni di Banco (see figs. 7.12, 7.15). The realistic treat- 
ment of the heads in the relief — note especially that of the 



1.6. Marcus Aurelius Sacrificing Before the Capitoline Temple . 
176-80 CE. White marble, IV 6" x 7'9" (3.5 x 2.36 m). Ancient 
Roman, from a triumphal arch (?). Palazzo dei Conservatori, Rome. 
Certain areas of the relief have been restored, including the arms and 
hands of all of the main figures. 


figure to the far right — demonstrates another important 
Classical attribute that inspired Renaissance sculptors. 

The impact of these and other ancient works on Renais- 
sance artists and architects will become evident in the fol- 
lowing chapters. Artifacts, art, and architecture from the 
Graeco-Roman world were supplemented by ancient texts, 
which were studied by humanists, the scholar-teachers of 
this period. The human dignity and critical reasoning they 
found in ancient writings played an important role in the 
transformation of art and society that we now call the 
Italian Renaissance. While the humanists showed an inter- 
est in all areas of ancient learning, they were at the same 
time determined to reconcile the ideas they found in Greek 
and Roman authors with Christian beliefs. 

This ancient material had been available throughout the 
Middle Ages, but during that period it had little effect. 
Changes in late medieval society and culture must have 
prepared the way so that Renaissance scholars and artists 
could be receptive to the visual and intellectual impact of 
the remains of the Graeco-Roman world. The story of the 
Italian Renaissance as a historical and cultural whole is 
complex, and the role of antiquity in the creation of works 
of art is only one part of a much larger narrative that is still 
being analyzed. 

The Cities 

The art, culture, and history discussed in this volume 
were focused in cities on the Italian peninsula. The 
growth of these cities, the wealth accumulated there, and 
the increasing sophistication of urban life are important 
foundations for the developments that became the Renais- 
sance. To speak of these cities as Italian is factually incor- 
rect, for the nation of Italy was not established until the 
second half of the nineteenth century. The term “Italian 
cities” is correct only in the sense that these centers existed 
on the Italian peninsula, and their citizens were unified 
by a common language, albeit one divided into many 
distinct dialects. 

The Italian language uses the same word (paese) for 
village and country (in the sense of nation), and to a 
medieval Italian the boundaries of “country” did not 
extend beyond what could be seen from a hilltop village. 
Maps of Italy in the late Middle Ages and Early Renais- 
sance look like mosaics, the pieces representing political 
entities that were sometimes hardly larger than a village. 
These communes, which have often been compared to 
the city-states of ancient Greece, were all that remained 
of the Roman Empire, or of the kingdoms and duke- 
doms founded in the disruptive period following the 
barbarian invasions and the ensuing breakup of ancient 
Roman society. 


20 • THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 


At the outset of the late Middle Ages, most city-states 
were republics, but in Lombardy, in the northwest, some 
were ruled by their bishops. In general, the republics were 
merchant cities and their governments were dominated by 
manufacturers, traders, and bankers. These republics were 
often in a state of war with each other, even with neighbors 
(Florence with Fiesole, Assisi with Perugia). Even more dis- 
ruptive than the inter-communal wars, however, were the 
eruptions of family against family and party against party 
within the communes. Under such conditions, it was easy 
for powerful individuals to undermine the independence of 
a city-state. Nobles in their castles, mercenary generals 
ostensibly hired to protect the republic, and powerful mer- 
chants struggled to gain control of the prosperous towns; 
their success in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries often 
led to the loss of communal liberties. The most successful 
of the superpolities was the papacy, which maintained 
various degrees of control over a wide belt of central 
Italian cities from its center in Rome. 

Some of the republics were destined for greatness. By the 
thirteenth century, Venice had established an enormous 
empire in support of its commercial ties with the East. By 
the end of the thirteenth century, Florence was trading 
with northern Europe and Asia and had so many branches 
of its banking firms in Europe that Pope Innocent III 
declared that there must be five elements, rather than four, 
because wherever Earth, Water, Fire, and Air were found in 
combination, one also saw Florentines. Other important 
republics included Siena, Lucca, Pisa, and Genoa, all of 


which were separate, proud, independent states. Each 
state, whether a republic or ruled by a despot, tended to 
absorb its smaller neighbors by conquest or purchase. As a 
result, by the end of the fifteenth century the peninsula was 
divided into a decreasing number of polities, each domi- 
nating a relatively large subject territory. Yet they were 
unable to unite against the menace of the increasingly cen- 
tralized monarchies of the rest of Europe, which in the six- 
teenth century were to threaten Italy on several occasions. 

Florence’s ground plan reveals the nature of the expan- 
sion of one Italian city state (see Map II, p. 13). A bird’s- 
eye view shows the city in the fifteenth century, when it 
was the largest in Europe (fig. 1.7), with more than 
100,000 inhabitants. The cathedral’s Renaissance dome 
formed a focus for the city, which was surrounded by 
walls and the Tuscan hills. The core of the late medieval 
city was the ancient city plan, with north-south and 
east-west streets intersecting at right angles — an ordered 
urban design still visible in the map today. By the thir- 
teenth century, the city had outgrown this core and more 
inhabitants clustered around the gates than within the 
ancient Roman plan. These areas of the city developed 
with no urban planning during the Middle Ages, and they 
are less regular than the ancient Roman center. During the 
thirteenth century a fortified city wall was built to protect 
the city. Later, a fourteenth-century circle of walls encom- 
passed an area so large that the city had not filled it by the 
nineteenth century. Its gates were decorated with paintings 
and sculpture, both civic and religious in nature. 



1.7. FRANCESCO DI LORENZO ROSSELLI (attributed to). Florence: View with the Chain . 1480s. Woodcut, 23 x 51 3 /4" (58.4 x 131.5 
cm). Every will drawn up in Florence was required to include a donation to the maintenance of the city walls. Compare to Map II, p. 13. 


2 I 


PRELUDE: ITALY AND ITALIAN ART • 





The print shown in figure 1.8 documents an eighteenth- 
century Florentine festival, but it reminds us how the civic 
and religious spaces of the Italian Middle Ages and Renais- 
sance provided a setting for public festivities and cere- 
monies: fairs, theatrical productions, sporting events, 
weddings, funerals, triumphal processions. While records 
document the costumes, floats, music, temporary tri- 
umphal arches, dramatic productions, and other aspects of 
such events, the visual evidence is slim. Only a later repre- 
sentation such as this can suggest the excitement of such an 
experience within its communal setting. Even today, on 
certain national, regional, and civic holidays, elaborate tra- 
ditional processions and rituals play an important role in 
the life of Italian cities. 

The hill town of Siena (fig. 1.9, and see Map IV, p. 15) 
is located some 45 miles south of Florence over winding 
roads — in the Middle Ages probably a day’s journey on 
horseback. A wealthy commercial and political rival of 
Florence, Siena was conquered by Florence in the 
middle of the sixteenth century. Instead of the foursquare 


intersections and powerful cubic masses of Florence, Siena 
presents us with climbs and descents, winding streets, and 
unexpected vistas. The Sienese were proud of their city and 
its reputation as a religious, charitable, and intellectual 
center. During the late thirteenth and the fourteenth cen- 
turies, the city seems to have been governed fairly and 
justly by civic-minded citizens. 

The city of Venice (fig. 1.10 and see Map III, p. 14), is 
unique in its position. With buildings supported by 
wooden piles in a lagoon along the Adriatic shore, Venice 
had no need for city walls or the massive house construc- 
tion of mainland towns. The result was an architecture 
whose freedom and openness come as a surprise when 
compared to the fortress-like character of many Italian 
cities. The great S-shaped form that divides Venice is the 
Grand Canal, along which the city’s wealthiest citizens 
built their palaces (see figs. 15.8, 15.59). 

In the thirteenth century, Rome (see Map IV on p. 15) 
was still relatively unimportant, and during the period 
from 1309 to 1377, when the popes were resident in 



1.8. GIUSEPPE ZOCCHI. The Piazza of Florence Cathedral in 1 754, with the Baptistery and Bell Tower, during the Procession of Corpus 
Domini, June 23. 1754. Engraving, I 8 V 2 x 26 5 k" (40.71 x 60.75 cm). During this procession the relics of St. John the Baptist were carried from 
the Cathedral to the Baptistery and then returned to the Cathedral. The vantage point in this view is imaginary, for the Cathedral complex is 
surrounded by buildings. 

As the center of Florentine worship and as an important civic monument, the Duomo complex, with Baptistery, Bell Tower, and Cathedral, 
became an important repository for Florentine art, including balconies for musical performance and monuments to individuals (see figs. 2.39 
10.19, 11.3). 


22 * THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 




1.9. Aerial view of Siena showing the Palazzo Pubblico (City Hall). Compare to Map IV, p. 15. 



1.10. Aerial view of Venice showing S. Marco and the Doge’s Palace. Compare to Map III, p. 14. 


PRELUDE: ITALY AND ITALIAN ART * 23 



France, there was little artistic activity. Only in the later 
fifteenth century did the papacy show a renewed vigor by 
beginning to commission works of art there (see figs. 
13.19, 14.16-14.18). By the beginning of the sixteenth 
century, when the papacy was an important political and 
territorial force, Rome had become the crucible for the full 
expression of what is known as the High Renaissance. 

The Guilds and the Status of 
the Artist 

The typical central and northern Italian city-state of the 
late Middle Ages was dominated by guilds — independent 
associations of businessmen, bankers, and artisan-manu- 
facturers — in virtually every sphere of commercial and 
political life. The Florentine Republic was founded on 
commerce and ruled by the representatives of these guilds. 
The guilds, however, were forced to accept the domination 
of the Parte Guelfa, the single political entity permitted in 
this proto -democracy. If considered restrictive by modern 
standards, it was in advance of anything conceived of in 
Western Europe since the days of Pericles and ancient 
Athens. In Florence the position of the guilds was 
expressed by the figures of their patron saints in niches at 
Orsanmichele (see figs. 7.1, 7.8-7.9, 7.12-7.13, 7.15), a 
civic building that held the food supply guaranteed by the 
republic during an era when famine was a constant threat. 

The seven major guilds (Arti, as they were called) com- 
prised the Arte di Calimala, refiners of imported woolen 
cloth; the Arte della Lana, wool merchants who manufac- 
tured cloth; the Arte dei Giudici e Notai, for judges and 
notaries; the Arte del Cambio, for bankers and money- 
changers; the Arte della Seta, for silk weavers; the Arte dei 
Medici e Speziali, for doctors and pharmacists; and the 
Arte dei Vaiai e Pellicciai, for furriers. Painters were admit- 
ted to the guild of doctors and pharmacists in 1314, 
perhaps because they had to grind their colors just as phar- 
macists ground materials for medicines. In the 1340s 
painters were classified as dependents of physicians, 
perhaps because painters and doctors enjoyed the protec- 
tion of St. Luke, who was reputedly both artist and physi- 
cian. Only in 1378 did the painters become an independent 
branch within the Medici e Speziali. 

The number of intermediate and minor guilds was con- 
stantly shifting. Among the former, never admitted to the 
rank of the major guilds, was the Arte di Pietra e Legname, 
artisans who worked in stone and wood. This guild 
included only those sculptors who specialized in these two 
materials. A sculptor trained in metals such as bronze was 
required to join a major guild, the Arte della Seta. Gold- 
smiths and armorers each had their own guild. 


At the bottom of the social structure, outside the guilds, 
were the wool carders, on whose labors much of the 
fortune of the city depended. Their situation in some ways 
was comparable to that of the slaves of ancient Athens, for 
although the Ciompi, as they were called, were permitted 
to leave their employment, their activities were strictly 
circumscribed by law. These workers, who constantly 
hovered on the brink of starvation, revolted in 1378 and 
founded a guild of their own, but this organization and its 
participation in government were both short-lived. The oli- 
garchy resumed control and put down the Ciompi by mass 
slaughter and individual execution, thus resuming control 
over the economic and political fortunes of the republic. 

The guilds to which artists belonged were part of the 
Mechanical Arts, not the rigidly defined Liberal Arts — 
grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, 
and music — which were considered the only activities suit- 
able for a gentleman in medieval feudal societies. In the 



1.11. ANDREA PISANO (from a design by Giotto?). Art of 
Sculpture, c. 1334-37. Marble, 32 3 A x 27 V 4 " (83.2 x 69.2 cm). 
Removed from original location on the Campanile, Florence 
(see fig. 3.25). Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Florence. 

The Museo dell’Opera del Duomo is an Italian institution found in 
many cities that houses works of art related to the town’s cathedral 
complex. Florence’s is one of the richest, and includes works from the 
Baptistery, Bell Tower, and Cathedral. Among the many important 
works preserved there are Donatello’s The Penitent Magdalen and 
Michelangelo’s Pieta (see figs. 12.6, 20.16). 


24 


THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 


Italian city-states, however, being linked to the Mechanical 
Arts represented a positive advantage to painters, sculp- 
tors, and architects because of the greater independence 
this made possible. To demonstrate how contemporary 
work is related to the Genesis narrative, Florentine profes- 
sions were represented in a series of reliefs on the exterior 
of the campanile (bell tower) of the Cathedral of Florence. 
Subsequent reliefs represent the early activities of human- 
ity, with the Mechanical Arts among them, including 
painting, sculpture (fig. 1.11), and architecture. 

Later, painting and sculpture were included among the 
Liberal Arts. In the late fourteenth century, the Florentine 
writer Filippo Villani compared the painters of his era to 
those who practiced the Liberal Arts. In 1404 the Paduan 
humanist Pier Paolo Vergerio claimed — erroneously — that 
painting had been one of the four Liberal Arts taught to 
ancient Greek boys. At the end of the fifteenth century, 
Leonardo da Vinci wrote eloquently about the importance 
of the Liberal Arts for artists (see p. 446). The stakes were 
economic as well as social; evidence suggests that the fif- 
teenth-century artist was generally not well paid, although 
in the sixteenth century Michelangelo (who claimed noble 
ancestry), Titian (who was ennobled by the Holy Roman 
Emperor), Raphael, and many other artists attained inter- 
national fame, respect, and wealth. Artists who could attach 
themselves to a princely court — such as Andrea Mantegna 
and Leonardo da Vinci in the fifteenth century and Giorgio 
Vasari and Benvenuto Cellini in the sixteenth — earned a 
regular salary and could enforce their style on others. By 
the late sixteenth century, academies under princely 
patronage (see p. 649) began to replace the guilds. 

The Artist at Work 

Artists almost always worked on commission. It would 
not have occurred to an artist of the thirteenth or 
fourteenth century to paint a picture or carve a statue for 
any reason other than to satisfy a patron, and an artist 
who was a good manager would have had a backlog of 
commissions. Those who were not good managers were 
often late delivering finished works to their patrons. Artists 
did not work in the kind of studios that we associate with 
later centuries. The word itself, which means “study” in 
Italian, only came into use in the seventeenth century, 
when artists were members of academies. In the late 
Middle Ages and throughout much of the Renaissance, an 
artist worked in a bottega (shop) — a word that also 
encompasses the apprentices and paid assistants who 
labored under the direction of the master. Apprentices 
entering the system could be as young as seven or eight, 
and their instruction was paid for by their families. Until 
the late sixteenth century, women were excluded from the 


apprenticeship system, in part because they were forbidden 
to join the appropriate guilds. Sometimes the bottega was 
entered, like a shop, from the street and the artist at work 
might be viewed by passersby. Artists might even exhibit 
finished work to the public in their shops. Masaccio, 
Lorenzo Ghiberti, Andrea del Castagno, Antonio del Pol- 
laiuolo, and others might accept commissions for jewelry, 
painted wooden trays (customarily given to new mothers; 
see fig. 12.3), painted shields for tournaments, proces- 
sional banners, or designs for embroidered vestments or 
other garments. Artists also designed triumphal arches, 
floats, and costumes for festivals that celebrated civic, reli- 
gious, and private events (see fig. 12.28). Unfortunately, 
little of this work survives; its loss is a huge lacuna in our 
study and understanding of Italian Renaissance art. We do, 
however, have a glimpse of such works and of a bottega of 
the period in a fifteenth-century Florentine engraving (fig. 
1.12). The workshop of a goldsmith/sculptor at the lower 
left shows ewers, large plates, and elaborate belts being 
offered for sale while an engraver is at work on a copper 
plate to be used to make a print. Outside the shop, a bust 
of a man wearing elaborate armor is displayed and the 
master is carving a female portrait bust. Note how the 
counter protrudes into the street and how the opening 
could be closed by dropping a hinged flap held open by a 
hook on the building’s facade. A painter is shown not in 
his bottega , but working in situ on scaffolding, adorning 
the structure with garlands and ribbons inspired by the 
sculptural decoration found on ancient Roman structures. 
He is accompanied by an assistant who is grinding pig- 
ments. In the structure to the right, a bookseller displays 
his wares on the lower floor, while above a musician plays 
an organ. Mercury, shown in a cart drawn by hawks, is 
protecting the arts as they were practiced in Florence, for 
the towered building in the background is the Palazzo dei 
Priori, the arched structure the Loggia della Signoria (see 
figs. 2.40-2.41). 

In the sixteenth century the bottega declined in impor- 
tance because of the new emphasis on the creative genius 
of the individual artist. By mid-century the new academic 
conception of the artist dominated, and in his old age 
Michelangelo would protest that he “was never a painter 
or a sculptor like those who keep shops.” 

The Products of the Painter’s 
Bottega 

The principal objects made by a painter in a bottega 
were altarpieces. Such artworks functioned as public 
religious images set upon altars in churches. An 
altarpiece might represent the Virgin Mary or Christ or 


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1.12. Attributed to BACCIO BALDINI. The Planet Mercury and 
the Professions Practiced under His Sign. c. 1464-65. Engraving, 

12 V4 x 8V2" (32.4 x 22 cm). British Museum, London. 

This engraving is one of a series depicting what at the time were 
considered to be the seven planets (Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, 
Mars, Jupiter, Saturn), and the various human activities over which 
each had an influence. Soldiers were found under the control of 
Mars, the ancient god of war, for example, while Venus controlled 
lovers. Under the planet Mercury were found men of science, art, and 
invention. The artist to whom the series is attributed, Baccio Baldini 
(1436-c. 1487), was a goldsmith, a logical trade for someone 
experimenting in the relatively new medium of engraving. 

Documents reveal that in the late 1470s, there were at least 
forty-four goldsmiths’ and silversmiths’ botteghe in Florence. 


depict the saint to whom a particular church or altar was 
dedicated, together with scenes from his or her life. 

Up to the thirteenth century — with the exact date varying 
from place to place — the priest stood behind the altar, facing 
the congregation. With the celebrant in this position, there 
was space on the altar only for the required crucifix, litur- 
gical book, candles, and vessels of the Mass. Decoration, 
including images and narrative scenes, was limited largely 


to the front of the altar. This decoration could be sculpted 
in stone or precious metals or painted on wooden panels 
known as altar frontals (for a stone example, see fig. 15.19). 

The new position of the priest left the altar table open 
for large-scale religious images. In the thirteenth century, 
the ritual was moved in front of the altar, so that the priest 
had his back to the congregation. In the fourteenth 
century, newly wealthy middle-class families began to pay 
for altarpieces and even for individual family chapels in 
which Mass could be said daily, sometimes many times 
a day, for the souls of departed family members. The 
crucifix, required for every altar, was a logical theme (see 
fig. 3.26, far left scene). The thirteenth century also saw 
tremendous growth in the veneration of the Virgin Mary. 
Patrons began to commission the images of the Madonna 
and Child that play so large a part in Italian art. If 
the chapel was large, the side walls, the space above the 
altarpiece, and the vaulted ceiling might be painted in 
fresco with subjects related to that of the altarpiece, and by 
the same artist. Many of the paintings treated in this book 
come from such family chapels. Some are still in place. 

Altarpieces and the smaller pictures intended for private 
homes as aids to personal and familial devotions were 
almost always composed of wooden panels painted in 
tempera. Two panels joined together, offering two subjects, 
were known as a diptych. More common, however, 
were triptychs (three panels, see fig. 3.28) and polyptychs 
(many panels), the architectural frames of which often 
suggest the facades of Gothic churches (see figs. 4.5, 4.7). 
Frames with classical pilasters became common during the 
fifteenth century (see fig. 13.37). 

An altarpiece on the main altar of a large church or 
cathedral might have images and scenes painted on the 
back as well. The custom of painting the predella, or base 
of the altarpiece, with small narrative scenes, visible only 
at close range, began early in the fourteenth century. At the 
same time, the pinnacles began to be decorated with 
angels, saints, or narrative scenes. The iconography of the 
altarpiece was determined by the clergy or by the wealthy 
family who ordered it, and even its shape could be subject 
to the patron’s tastes. 

Sometimes chapter houses intended for the meetings of 
a community of monks or nuns (see figs 5.1, 5.8), and 
sacristies, where the vessels, books, and vestments of the 
liturgy were kept, were endowed as family chapels and 
provided with altars (see fig. 6.16). The dining room in a 
monastery or nunnery was called the refectory; as rooms in 
which the members of the religious community ate silently, 
while listening to sermons or readings, these were often 
decorated with the scene of the Last Supper (see figs. 3.31, 
11.1). The most famous example is by Leonardo da Vinci 
(see fig. 16.23). 


2,6 • THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 



The Practice of Drawing 

During the Renaissance, art was seldom made without 
some kind of preparatory study. Before the sixteenth 
century these studies were often made on parchment or 
vellum (processed animal skin) that could be cleaned or 
washed and used again. The few drawings that do survive 
from the period before 1430 seem to be pages from what 
are known as pattern books, compilations of drawings 
that might be useful in creating new works (see figs. 
15.12-15.13). These were preserved because they would 
be useful in the bottega , not because they were considered 
to be works of art in and of themselves. Surviving exam- 
ples include copies of works of art, models for standard 
compositions, and drawings of animals, birds, human 
figures, and heads. 

Drawing was regarded as the foundation of art by 
Cennino Cennini, an artist who wrote II libro delVarte 
(The Book of Art) in about 1400. Cennini devoted twenty- 
eight brief chapters in his handbook to the subject, advis- 
ing the painter to draw daily on paper, parchment, or panel 
with pen, charcoal, chalk, or brush. He urged the artist to 
draw from nature, from the paintings of the masters, or 
from the imagination. A generation later the architect and 
theorist Leonbattista Alberti, writing in Florence, spoke of 
“concepts” and “models” (doubtless sketches and detailed 
drawings) as customary preparations for painting and for 
storie (figural compositions). In the mid-sixteenth century, 
Giorgio Vasari described sketches as “a first set of draw- 
ings that are made to find the poses and the first composi- 
tion,” dashed down in haste by the artist, from which 
drawings “in good form” will later be made. 

The importance of preparatory drawings may well have 
varied considerably from bottega to bottega , but the evi- 
dence suggests that the fourteenth-century painter drew 
such standard subjects as Madonnas, saints, and crucifixes 
directly on the surface of the work to be painted. Such 
drawings would be lost when the artist painted over them, 
of course, but today’s technology sometimes allows a 
glimpse of these underdrawings. The painter might also 
have sketched complex figural compositions in small scale, 
on paper or parchment, to be kept next to the painting as 
a guide in the early stages. Dust, paint drippings, and the 
wear and tear of the bottega would have rendered such 
sketches hardly worth preserving. 

By the mid-fifteenth century, the spolvero (Italian for 
“dust off”), a new technique previously used for ornamen- 
tal borders, came into broader usage. The spolvero was a 
full-scale drawing of a complex detail, such as the head of 
a main figure. The outlines of the drawing were pricked 
with a sharp point and, after the drawing was placed on 
the painting’s surface, it was tapped with a sponge or a 


porous bag loaded with charcoal dust, thus transferring 
rows of dots outlining the design. Surprisingly, these dots 
can sometimes still be made out (see fig. 17.33). 

In the early sixteenth century, the spolvero was replaced 
by the cartoon (from the Italian word cartone , a heavy 
paper), a full-scale drawing made on sheets of paper glued 
together if necessary. The cartoon was pressed against the 
surface to be painted and its outlines were transferred by 
means of a metal point or stylus. Several cartoons and 
fragments of cartoons survive, including one for the lower 
figures in Raphael’s Philosophy (see figs. 17.47-17.48), 
but they are few compared to the thousands that must 
have been executed. Two important compositions by 
Leonardo and Michelangelo are known only because 
other artists made copies of their cartoons (see figs. 
16.30, 16.42). 

The drawings included in the later sections of this book 
indicate the diversity of drawing styles and media practiced 
by Renaissance artists, which range from the precisely con- 
trolled study of light as it falls on drapery in a drawing by 
Leonardo (see fig. 16.13) to the quick strokes used to 
capture naturalistic movement in drawings by Raphael (see 
figs. 16.46, 17.50). Because drawings serve so many 
functions for artists, it should not be a surprise to realize 
that a single artist may use a number of different materials 
and styles, depending on the reason for creating the 
drawing; perhaps the supreme example is Leonardo 
da Vinci, sixteen of whose drawings are illustrated (see pp. 
444—463). The majority of drawings that survive were 
made by painters; preparatory sketches by sculptors are 
much rarer. In creating a stone sculpture, the artist proba- 
bly drew the profiles of the four sides directly on the block 
before beginning to carve. For the creation of figures in 
stone or bronze, models in clay, terra-cotta, or plaster in 
various sizes were probably used as guides as the 
work developed. Although many drawings by architects 
survive, we know from documents that small-scale models 
in three dimensions also guided builders as they erected 
buildings. Sometimes these were made to be viewed by the 
patron as part of a competition among architects. Surviv- 
ing examples include the wooden model for the facade 
Michelangelo designed for the Medicean church of San 
Lorenzo (see fig. 18.3). 

To our twenty-first-century eyes, many of these draw- 
ings seem to be works of art in themselves: we admire the 
long, flowing lines of Botticelli’s drawing of a walking 
female figure (see fig. 13.25), the subtle three-dimensional- 
ity of a head drawn by Perugino (see fig 1.20), and the 
vigorous definition of the musculature of a nude figure by 
Michelangelo (see fig. 16.43). These were intended, 
however, as steps in the process of creating larger and more 
complex works in more permanent materials. 


PRELUDE: ITALY AND ITALIAN ART • ZJ 


The Practice of Painting 

Between 1200 and 1600, paintings were made from a 
variety of materials. In the thirteenth century, tempera and 
fresco were the techniques used, but by the end of the fif- 
teenth century, oil paint gradually became more common. 
By the end of the sixteenth century, the oil-on-canvas 
technique, which during the seventeenth century became 
the most popular painting medium in the West, had been 
developed in Venice. Oil paint was a more flexible 
medium, and the loose, suggestive brushstrokes in a paint- 
ing made by the elderly Titian (see fig. 19.26) are com- 
pletely different from the fine detail apparent in a painting 
in tempera made in Venice more than two hundred years 
earlier (see fig. 5.14). 

The intricate procedures of the painter’s craft, as prac- 
ticed in Florence and northern Italy during the late 
medieval and much of the early Renaissance periods, are 
described in detail by Cennini, who states that he studied 
with Agnolo Gaddi — the son and pupil of Taddeo Gaddi, 
who had been an assistant of Giotto — but wrote his trea- 
tise in Padua, in northern Italy. The art of painting as 
described by Cennini is how things were done in his own 
Paduan bottega , but we have no other technical handbook 
from this period, and what Cennini says, although not 
necessarily relevant to earlier periods or other centers, 
must be read carefully. 

CREATING A TEMPERA PAINTING. The 
following description of the creation of a tempera painting 
is based both on Cennini’s description and evidence from 
surviving examples of the technique. The first step after 
the design was approved by the patron was the construc- 
tion by a carpenter of panels of finely morticed and sanded 
poplar, linden, or willow wood (fig. 1.13). At this 
time, the frame was also constructed and attached 
to the panels. The panels and frame were then covered 
with gesso, a mixture of finely ground plaster and glue. 
Sometimes the gesso was covered with a surface of linen, 
itself soaked in gesso and then covered with still more 
gesso. When dry, the surface could be given a finish as 
smooth as ivory. 

Cennini is explicit about how to compose a single figure 
on a panel. The underdrawing began with a piece of char- 
coal tied to a reed or stick, which gave the artist sufficient 
distance from the panel to allow him to judge the compo- 
sition as it developed. Shading was done by means of light 
strokes, erasures with a feather. When the design was 
acceptable, the feather could erase all but dim traces of the 
original strokes, and the drawing could then be reinforced 
with a pointed brush dipped in a wash of ink and water; 
the brush was made of hairs from the tail of a gray squir- 



1.13. Diagram of a tempera panel dissected to show principal 
layers: a. wooden panel; b. gesso, sometimes reinforced with linen; 
c. underdrawing; d. gold leaf; e. underpainting; 1. final layers 
of tempera. 


rel. After the panel was swept free of charcoal, the painter 
shaded in the drapery folds and some of the shadow on the 
face with a blunt brush with the same wash, “and thus,” 
Cennini says, “there will remain to you a drawing that will 
make everyone fall in love with your work.” 

The next step, before any additional painting took place, 
was the application of gold; in panel paintings of the thir- 
teenth, fourteenth, and early fifteenth centuries, the back- 
ground behind the figures and the haloes around the heads 
of saints were almost invariably gold leaf, applied in small 
sheets over bole, a red sizing or glue. Gold was used 
because of its value and beauty and because its luminosity 
suggested the light of heaven. Lines incised around the 
contours of the figures and haloes guided the gilder. In 
many paintings, the slight overlapping of these gold sheets 
can still be discerned. The gold leaf tends to wear thin if 
tempera paintings are cleaned, and their backgrounds 


28 • THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 


sometimes display hints of the red bole. In the thirteenth 
century, gold haloes and sometimes parts of the back- 
ground were incised to make a pattern in relief, but by 
about 1330 these areas were decorated using low-relief 
punches shaped like flowers, stars, cusped Gothic arches, 
and other patterns to emboss their designs into the gold 
surface. The fact that the gilded background was done 
before the painting meant that the composition could be 
changed only with great difficulty. 

When the gilding of the background was complete, the 
painter would build up the actual painting in thin layers of 
tempera: ground colors mixed with egg yolk. Because yolk 
dries rapidly, the painter could not easily change a form or 
correct mistakes and the tiny individual strokes of the 
brush, again made of gray squirrel hair, can still be seen if 
you examine a tempera painting closely. Generally parallel 
and seldom overlapping, these brushstrokes follow the 
forms of flesh or drapery in concentric curves. 

Cennini instructed the artist painting drapery to make 
three dishes of the chosen color, the first full strength, the 
second mixed half-and-half with white, and the third an 
equal mixture of the first two, thus accounting for dark, 
light, and intermediate tones. The highlights, brushed on 
last in white or near-white or sometimes even yellow or 
gold, have inevitably been the first elements to disappear in 
the rough cleaning to which most old pictures have been 
subjected. The terra verde (green earth) used for the under- 
painting of the flesh created the unusual greenish flesh 
tones characteristic of this period (see fig. 2.11). Cennini 
also instructed the painter how to achieve an effect of iri- 
descent drapery by using a different color for highlights 
from that employed for darker areas (as can be seen best in 
frescoes by Giotto and others; see fig. 3.13). The methods 
Cennini described reveal the slow, painstaking approach 
required for painting in tempera. 

Blue was a special problem. The two available pigments 
were both imported and expensive: azurite came from 
Germany, and ultramarine, which was as costly as gold 
(sometimes more so), was produced by grinding lapis lazuli 
imported from Afghanistan. Both were customarily mixed 
with white, as Cennini describes, although in the case of 
the Virgin’s mantle, which was typically painted blue to 
represent her as Queen of Heaven, the white was often 
omitted (see fig. 4.17). In most early altarpieces her mantle 
has turned dark grayish-green through the transformation 
of the egg medium over time. By the end of the fourteenth 
century, apparently, painters began to notice the gradual color 
change, and in most later paintings the Virgin’s blue mantle 
was painted with materials that retain their intended hue. 
Varnish was applied to tone down the fresh bright colors 
and flashing gold of tempera altarpieces; varnish has even 
been found on thirteenth-century panels beneath a layer of 


fourteenth-century repainting. When a painting was dis- 
played in a church, candle smoke would slowly obscure 
the colors. 

Although a small panel of the Madonna and Child by 
Duccio di Buoninsegna (fig. 1.14) shows some damage, the 
surface seems to be well preserved and demonstrates the 
unusual skin tones found when early Italian painting was 
under the profound influence of Byzantine art, as will 
be discussed in Chapter 2. The frame is original, which 
is exceptional in a work of this age. The damage along 
the lower edge was caused by burning candles when the 
work was used for personal devotion in the home, 
monastery, or nunnery. 



1.14. DUCCIO DI BUONINSEGNA. Madonna and Child. 
c. 1300. Tempera and gold on wood, with original frame, 11 x 8" 
(27.9 x 20.3 cm). New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, purchase 
(2004.442). 

This recent acquisition by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New 
York joins an impressive collection of Italian Late Medieval and 
Renaissance paintings, as well as sculptures, small bronzes, and even 
an intarsia studio (see figs. 14.31-14.32 for a similar example). The 
Metropolitan Museum is among the world’s most impressive because 
its collections include works of high quality from virtually all periods 
of world history. 


PRELUDE: ITALY AND ITALIAN ART * 29 


CREATING A FRESCO PAINTING. Altarpieces 
forced painters to work with meticulous care in tempera 
over months and even, for larger works such as Duccio’s 
Maesta (see figs. 4.2-4.11), years, but in the medium of 
fresco they were required to work more quickly. According 
to Cennini, who described standard procedures probably 
practiced by Giotto and his followers, fresco (the Italian 
word means “fresh”) was the most delightful technique, 
probably because the painter could pour out ideas with 
immediacy, vivacity, and intensity. A fresco may appear 
detailed when viewed from the floor, but when examined 
closely, it becomes apparent that it was executed at con- 
siderable speed. Most Italian fresco painters could manage 
an approximately life-sized figure in two days — one for the 
head and shoulders, the second for the rest. Counting an 
additional day for the background architecture or land- 
scape, one can devise a rule of thumb that calculates the 
amount of time involved in painting a fresco by multiply- 
ing the number of foreground figures by three days. Some 
painters, such as Masaccio, who finished the Expulsion at 
the Brancacci Chapel in Florence in only four days, 
worked even faster (see figs. 8.7, 8.13-8.14). Michelan- 
gelo’s painting of the Creation of Sun , Moon, and Plants 
on the Sistine Chapel Ceiling (see fig. 17.34) was com- 
pleted in seven days. 

In creating a fresco (fig. 1.15), the thirteenth- or four- 
teenth-century painter seems to have painted directly on 
the wall without preparatory drawings on paper beyond 
the kind needed for painting on a panel. But if the subject 
were unusual, requiring new compositional inventions or 
perhaps prior approval of the patron, more detailed draw- 
ings may have been made. The painter, standing on scaf- 
folding (see fig. 1.12), probably drew rapidly on a wall 
whose masonry had been covered with a rough coat of 
plaster called arriccio. On this surface the painter could lay 
out the principal divisions of the area to be painted with 
the aid of vertical and horizontal lines created by snapping 
a long cord suffused with chalk against the wall; assistants 
held the cord at either end. Artists interested in establish- 
ing recession in perspective would apply the same tech- 
nique, using a string tied to a nail for the vanishing point 
(for an example in which the nail hole is still visible using 
binoculars, see fig. 13.36). Then, with or without the aid 
of preliminary sketches, the painter drew the composition 
rapidly with a brush dipped into pale, watery earth color 
that would leave only faint marks. 

Over these first indications, the painter could draw the 
rough outlines of the figures lightly with a stick of char- 
coal, further establishing the poses and principal masses of 
drapery. The third stage was a reddish monochromatic 
painting called a sinopia (pi. sinopie ), after the name of the 
Greek city Sinope in Asia Minor, the source of the finest 



1.15. Diagram of a partially finished fresco at the beginning of a 
day’s work, with joints between previous days’ work indicated in 
heavy lines, a. masonry wall; b. arriccio; c. painted intonaco of 
upper tier; d. giomata of new intonaco ready for color; e. previous 
day’s giomata; f. underdrawing in sinopia on arriccio layer. 


red-earth color. In these sinopie , artists established muscu- 
lature, features, and ornament, sometimes with the broad 
strokes of a coarse- bristle brush, sometimes with shorter, 
finer strokes. 

In the process of detaching frescoes threatened by damp- 
ness or other problems from the walls on which they were 
painted, some sinopie have been brought to light (fig. 1.16; 
fig. 1.17 shows the completed fresco for comparison). In 
their freshness and freedom, sinopie are sometimes more 
attractive to modern eyes than the finished frescoes that 
covered them. If a sinopia varies considerably from its 
fresco, this may be because the painter decided to change 
the position of a limb or a piece of drapery, or perhaps 
because the patron complained about some iconographic 
or compositional aspect of the original design. 

As the work progressed, the artist or an assistant 
covered a section of sinopia each morning (or the previous 
evening) with an area of fresh, smooth plaster called 
intonaco , leaving the painter with nothing but a memory — 
or some good working drawings — as a guide to paint that 
area. Each new patch of intonaco is called a giomata (pi. 
giornate). On any given day, a fresco in progress would 
consist of an area of finished work, an area of sinopia , and 
one blank giomata of fresh intonaco that had to be painted 
before the plaster became too dry late in the afternoon. 
The joints between giornate are often visible because the 
painter removed with a knife whatever intonaco remained 
unpainted when the light failed. The edge was beveled to 


30 • THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 


keep from crumbling. When the new giornata was applied 
that evening or the next morning, a soft, rounded edge 
adjoined the bevel. Specialists examining a fresco’s surface 
on scaffolding can often determine not only the limits of 
each giornata , but also the order in which they were com- 
pleted. Sometimes the divisions between the giornate 
follow the contours of a head or figure, but more fre- 
quently they fall between two figures or heads. An entry in 
the diary of the sixteenth-century painter Jacopo Pon- 
tormo illuminates the process, listing briefly what he 
accomplished each day and, on occasion, what he ate: 


30th Tuesday I started the figure 

Wednesday as far as the leg 

On the first of August I did the leg, and at night I had 
supper with Piero, a pair of boiled pigeons. 

Friday I did the arm that leans 

Saturday the head of the figure that’s below that’s like this 
[accompanied by a drawing] 

Sunday I had supper at Danielle’s with Bron, we had 
meatballs. 




1.16, 1.17. ANDREA DEL CASTAGNO. Resurrection , Crucifixion , Entombment . 1447. Sinopia drawing for fresco (top) and finished fresco 
above), width of wall 3 9' 6" (10.25 m). See fig. 11.1 for complete view of refectory wall of Refectory of Sant’Apollonia, Florence. 


PRELUDE: ITALY AND ITALIAN ART * 3 I 



The pigments were mixed with water, and in the course 
of painting would sink into the fresh intonaco . At this 
point a chemical reaction took place: the carbon dioxide of 
the air combined with the calcium hydrate in the plaster, 
producing calcium carbonate as the plaster hardened. This 
technique is known as true fresco. When dry, fresco colors 
did not look the same as when they were first laid down on 
the wet plaster and the quality and luminosity of color 
depended on exactly how dry the plaster was when the 
painter applied that color. The painter also had to consider 
the humidity of the interior of the church or palace; fres- 
coes could not be painted in cold weather in unheated inte- 
riors. Not all colors were water-soluble, and some had to 
be painted on the dry plaster — a procedure known as a 
secco . Areas of a secco were, sooner or later, in danger of 
peeling off. 

Fresco painters worked from the top down to keep 
paint from dripping onto completed sections. The scaf- 
folding was dismantled as lower levels were painted. The 
result was a tendency to compose in horizontal strips. 
The background landscape and architecture and some- 
times the haloes would be painted before the heads of the 
foreground figures. Sometimes the painter started in 
the center and worked out, sometimes from the sides 
toward the center. The piecemeal nature in which a 
fresco had to be painted became a drawback during the 
fifteenth century, when visual unity, including light 
and atmosphere, was considered essential to good paint- 
ing. Perhaps true fresco’s limitations explain why 
Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper (see figs. 16.23-16.25) 
was not painted using this technique. Scaffolding pre- 
vented a painter from stepping back to view the whole, but 
occasionally an impulsive artist went over the edge and 
was injured, as was Michelangelo when painting the Last 
Judgment on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel (see fig. 
20.1). According to Vasari, a painter named Barna da 
Siena was killed in such a fall. When faced with a deadline, 
some masters did a great deal of a secco painting over 
fresco underpainting. 

Cennini’s testimony suggests that before the fifteenth 
century painters did not make preparatory drawings but 
drew directly on the intonaco in sinopia. Conservation 
work, however, has shown that a number of fourteenth- 
century fresco cycles, including some by Giotto in Florence 
(see figs. 3.20-3.23), had no sinopie under the intonaco . It 
seems that it would have been useless to create detailed 
sinopie for large frescoes like those in figures 3.1, 4.30, 
4.37, and 5.1, because the beams and boards of the 
scaffolding would have concealed any view of the whole 
from the floor. For such colossal paintings, detailed 
preparatory plans would have been indispensable. Any 
preparatory drawings actually used in painting a fresco 


would have been exposed to damage on the scaffolding 
and few survive. Spolveri gradually replaced sinopie , 
although in the middle of the fifteenth century both were 
sometimes used in the creation of a single fresco. 

The spolvero and later the cartoon (perhaps cut into sec- 
tions if too large to be easily manageable) were brought 
onto the scaffolding and the outlines transferred either by 
pouncing or by incising with a stylus in the case of the 
cartoon as each section of intonaco went on the wall. The 
painter was then free to lay on colors without having to 
remember the composition of a hidden section of sinopia 
under the intonaco , and with the spolvero or cartoon still 
at hand for guidance. Even with these techniques, however, 
evidence reveals that painters often varied from the con- 
tours they had pounced or incised when they actually 
applied paint; Raphael’s cartoon is missing three figures 
found in the finished fresco (see figs. 17.47-17.48). 

CREATING AN OIL PAINTING. Because oil 
paint did not become important in Italy until the late fif- 
teenth century, we will delay a more detailed discussion 
until it begins to affect the appearance of paintings. It will 
suffice to point out that oil painting was first developed in 
northern Europe and that Italian collectors, including the 
Medici, owned early paintings in this technique. Italian 
patrons sometimes commissioned oil paintings from 
Northern artists, and the arrival in Florence in the early 
1480s of one of these works (see fig. 13.32) helped direct 
Florentine painters’ attention to the possibilities of the 
oil technique. 

The same powdered pigments used in tempera painting 
were used for works in oil, the only difference being that 
the pigments were mixed with linseed oil instead of egg 
yolk. Oil offered several advantages: first, because it was 
slower-drying than tempera, it was easier to blend colors, 
leading to the possibility of greater detail; second, the 
thickness of the paint depended on how much linseed oil 
was added, meaning that the painter could have a very thin 
liquid or a thick one, according to need; third, oil is a 
translucent medium, so oil paintings could have a greater 
depth and richness of color than was possible with 
tempera. The earliest Italian works executed largely in oil 
were painted on the same kind of gessoed wooden support 
used for tempera painting but, because of the problems 
with humidity in Venice, Venetian painters eventually 
began painting on a canvas support. 

Leonardo da Vinci was among the first Italian artists to 
use oil extensively (see p. 452), but it was Antonello da 
Messina (see pp. 412-15), who had studied with one or 
more Flemish artists, who brought the technique to Venice, 
where it had an almost immediate impact on Giovanni 
Bellini and others (see p. 418). The innovations in oil 


32 * THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 


painting made by the later Venetian painters — especially 
Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese — transformed 
the history of artistic development (see pp. 592-637). The 
Venetian technique of oil on canvas would dominate Euro- 
pean painting well into the twentieth century. 

The Practice of Sculpture 

The stone sculpture created in Italy during the Renaissance 
was in most cases made from blocks of marble quarried in 
the mountains near Carrara, near Pisa (fig. 1.18). While 
ready access to such a fine material was a definite advan- 
tage to sculptors, moving large blocks of stone down from 
the mountains was difficult and placed limits on the size of 
the blocks that could be transported. Michelangelo’s 
David (see fig. 16.1) was carved from one of the largest 
blocks quarried during the Renaissance, at least 17 feet tall 
and relatively broad, but also quite shallow, which helps 
explain why the movement of Michelangelo’s figure is 
largely two-dimensional. In his later works, when deeper 
blocks quarried to his specifications were available to him, 
Michelangelo created figures that twisted in space (see figs. 
16.41, 18.16). 

One fourteenth-century relief depicts a sculptor (see 
fig. 1.11) at work on a statue. The figure being carved does 
not stand vertically, as it will when completed, but in the 
most convenient position for carving — reclining at a diag- 
onal; the same position is evident in a print showing a 
sculptor at work on a female bust portrait (see fig. 1.12). 
Even as late as the sixteenth century, Michelangelo worked 
on some of his statues in this manner — a method that both 
permitted the sculptor to approach every section easily 
without climbing and gave every hammer blow the benefit 
of gravity. 


Sculptors might have begun a project by drawing and/or 
making small models in clay or even a full-sized version in 
clay or plaster. A complex device composed of adjustable 
iron rods could be used to enlarge (in the case of a small 
model) or transfer (in the case of a full-scale model) the 
model to the block. The outlines of the subject could also 
be sketched in charcoal on the surfaces of the block, from 
which the sculptor would then begin to carve away, first 
with a pointed and then with a toothed chisel. Assistants 
in the bottega may have completed the initial carving away 
of excess material from the block. The parallel marks left 
by the toothed chisel were removed with files and 
the surface was then polished with pumice and straw. In 
the case of Michelangelo’s unfinished works (see figs. 
16.41, 18.16, 20.16-20.17), we are able to study both the 
rough surface of the figures and the final surface 
polish that Michelangelo intended. The word “sculptor,” 
incidentally, did not come into common use until the 
late fifteenth century; older documents use the term 
tagliapietra (stonecutter). 

A bronze sculpture cost approximately ten times as 
much as a marble one. Bronze sculptures were made by 
pouring the bronze, a mixture of copper and tin (and, 
sometimes, lead, zinc, and/or pewter), heated to a temper- 
ature of at least 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit (about 1,000 
degrees centigrade), into a mold. Sculptors were generally 
their own bronze founders, but for large or complex jobs, 
specialists in bronze casting such as bell-makers or artillery 
specialists may have assisted them. 

To create a small, solid bronze figure or object, a 
detailed wax model was made or a rough clay core, 
covered with a thin layer of wax in which more specific 
details had been defined. The wax was then covered 
with a heat-resistant outer layer of plaster and sand or 


1.18. View of the marble quarries near Carrara, 
Tuscany. In 1518, Michelangelo was sent to 
Carrara by Pope Leo X with orders to quarry 
marble from Monte Altissimo (the name means 
“the highest”), which was reported to have the 
finest marble in this area. Between 1518 and 
1520 the sculptor had to concentrate on 
opening two roads, one that would lead up to 
the finest veins and a second that would enable 
the marble to be moved down the mountain to 
a port on the coast. More recently, dynamite 
and modem technology have been used to 
access Monte Altissimo’s veins of fine marble. 



PRELUDE: ITALY AND ITALIAN ART * 33 



clay. Heat was then applied to melt away the wax, leaving 
a mold into which molten bronze was poured. After 
the mold was removed, the surface of the solid bronze 
casting was cleaned and details refined with metal tools 
(see below). 

The initial step in creating a larger work began with the 
artist’s production of a full-scale clay model, around which 
a plaster mold would be constructed that could be 
removed in sections so that smaller units could be cast sep- 
arately and later joined by soldering (fig. 1.19). These sec- 
tions were coated inside with a layer of wax. Separately, a 
core of clay and shavings was built on a framework of iron 
to provide support during the casting process. The thin 
wax coating was then removed from the plaster mold and 
fixed to the core with wires to make a statue of wax 
around the core. This wax statue was then brushed with a 
paste made of fine ash mixed with water, and around it 
was made an exterior mold of clay and shavings supported 
by an iron framework pinned and joined to that of the 
core. Tubes called sprues allowed the wax to pass through 
the outer mold. When this construction was heated, the 
wax ran out, leaving the space between core and outer 
mold for the melted bronze, which could be poured in 
through several sprues simultaneously, as shown in figure 
1.19, or passed through pipes from a furnace. For very 
large pieces, sometimes the mold was placed in a pit in the 
earth to make it easier for the heavy, hot metal to be 
poured into the sprues prepared for it. 

After the bronze had cooled, both core and mold could 
be chipped away, leaving a series of pieces that could be 
joined together to form a hollow bronze statue. The sprues 
were then cut away. If the cast had holes because the 
molten bronze had failed to flow freely, these could be 
repaired (such patches are visible on the legs of Donatello’s 
David , for example; see fig. 10.22), and complex protru- 
sions could be cast separately and attached at this point. 
The rough surfaces of the bronze were then filed away and 
polished by a process known as chasing, and details such 
as strands of hair and the decorative edging of garments 
would be refined by scratching into or incising the bronze. 
The technique described here is similar to that used by the 
ancient Greeks and Romans. 

The sculpture could be left in its natural bronze state, 
but sometimes details or even the whole were gilded. This 
was an elaborate process: details could be gilded by a 
means similar to that used for panels, but larger areas were 
usually fire-gilt. This technique required the application 
of an alloy of gold and mercury; when heated, the mercury 
was dispersed, leaving the sculpture covered with a 
thin but durable coating of gold. Such a process is 
now known to be dangerous because of the poisonous 
nature of mercury. 



1.19. Conjectural reconstruction of a cross-section of the bronze 
casting process for the head, bust, and upper arms of the figure of 
Judith from Donatello’s Judith and Holofemes (see fig. 12.7). The 
beige areas in the center indicate the form of the piece to be cast. 
The hatched areas are the outer mold for the piece, and the red lines 
are the metal pins that hold the inner mold to the outer one after the 
wax has been melted out. The black arrows at the top and black 
areas suggest how the hot bronze would have flowed through the 
sprues and out at the bottom. 


The difficulties of casting in bronze were described in 
dramatic detail by Benvenuto Cellini in his Autobiography 
(written 1558-1562). Although his writings contain a 
certain amount of exaggeration, Cellini’s works demon- 
strate the high level of accomplishment possible in bronze 
sculpture by the late sixteenth century (see fig. 20.22). 

The Practice of Architecture 

During the Renaissance, new buildings were built (or 
begun) and old ones remodeled. New city centers were in 
a few instances constructed (see figs. 10.10-10.11), while 
ideal cities, destined to remain dreams, were described in 
treatises or represented in drawings, prints, or paintings 
(see fig. 14.30). Whether built or envisioned, Renaissance 
structures consistently offered references to antiquity 
through the use of classical proportions and Roman 
orders, arches, and decoration. Squares that recall Roman 
forums were built, and direct imitations of Roman tri- 
umphal arches were created for the festivities of Renais- 
sance sovereigns. Italian architects were inspired by the 
buildings of ancient Rome, some of which were visible in 


34 * THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 


a more complete state during the Renaissance than they are 
today (see fig. 12.19). In addition, a text on architecture by 
the first-century BCE architect and theorist Vitruvius sur- 
vived and was carefully read not only by architects but also 
by humanists. The new classicizing buildings of the Renais- 
sance were based on drawings of Roman structures, but in 
style could vary from exactly measured, archaeologically 
correct views to designs that added highly personal embell- 
ishments to the original model. 

Italian architects before the High Renaissance, however, 
were little interested in the fundamentals of Roman impe- 
rial building, especially the system of vaulting used by the 
Romans to roof vast interior spaces. In comparison with 
the richly articulated architecture of masses and spaces 
developed during the Roman Empire, continued at Ravenna, 
and — technically at least — surpassed in the Gothic cathe- 
drals of France and other northern European countries, 
Italian architecture of the late Middle Ages and the Early 
Renaissance remained, essentially, an architecture of large 
spaces enclosed by flat walls. In fact, the word used by 
Renaissance architects, patrons, and theorists for “to build” 
was murare (literally “to wall”), and in Italy a builder is still 
a muratore . Often these Italian structures were roofed by 
the same simple timber constructions used in Early Christ- 
ian basilicas, with a flat, wooden ceiling suspended from 
the beams (see figs. 6.17-6.18). Even when constructing a 
vault, the Italian architect was averse to the rich system of 
supports — the so-called exoskeleton — of a French Gothic 
church with its flying buttresses and pinnacles. The 
massive masonry vaults of the cathedrals of Florence and 
Siena, for example, would have collapsed without the iron 
tie-rods that helped to hold the structure together (see figs. 
2.38 and 5.15, where the tie-rods are clearly visible). 

It seems that when the builders of Italian churches in the 
early part of our period laid out the foundations of their 
structures, they were often not exactly certain how high 
the walls and columns were to reach or how the interior 
spaces were to be vaulted. The calculation of spaces and 
forms was based on mathematical principles of sequence 
and proportion (see p. 154) rather than on any notion of 
the requirements of day-to-day living. The surviving draw- 
ings of architectural plans, elevations, perspectives, and 
details (see figs. 3.24, 16.8, 17.13, 18.2) take on a special 
importance when, as often happened, the building itself 
was never built (see fig. 6.20). In addition, the back- 
grounds of paintings sometimes offer views of architecture, 
although some of these painted structures are clearly 
unbuildable (see figs. 14.16, 16.44). Sadly, the dreams of 
most Renaissance architects for the rebuilding of Italian 
cities were prevented by circumstance — war, internal 
conflict, lack of funds — from being realized (see figs. 
14.30, 15.61). 


Although work was sometimes carried out under the 
general direction of an architect, often the key figure was 
a mason or builder — a member of the Arte di Pietra e 
Legname. Rarely, however, did such a technician rise to the 
status of architect. There was, in fact, no word for archi- 
tect in the fourteenth century, only capomaestro (literally 
“head-master”). Almost all the most inventive architects 
discussed here began as painters, sculptors, or, in the case 
of Michelangelo, both; some came to architecture late 
and — impressive as their architectural achievements 
were — continued to paint or sculpt. Often they were 
appointed capomaestro without training or experience in 
building. The modern institution of an architectural office 
was unknown in the Renaissance, and the principal 
method of communication between architect and builder 
was a detailed wooden model, a number of which survive 
(see figs. 18.3, 20.8, 20.11). Military architecture was 
given over to untrained builders, who made themselves 
into expert engineers, and the beauty, brilliance, and prac- 
ticality of Renaissance fortifications deserves further study. 

The construction of a large building demanded extensive 
scaffolding. In the early period the temporary platforms on 
which the workers stood were often supported by beams 
inserted into square holes left in the structure for just this 
purpose; you can see such scaffolding in use at the top of 
Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Allegory of Good Government in 
the City (see fig. 4.30). As the wall rose in height, the 
beams would be raised, and the holes left open so that 
repairing the structure could be accomplished without 
rebuilding scaffolding from the ground. These holes are 
still visible in some medieval structures. The wall, free- 
standing with a minimum of external buttressing or none 
at all, was the basis of Italian architectural thinking until it 
was replaced in the High Renaissance by the development 
of the radial plan, in which large interior spaces radiated 
out from a central, domed core (see, for example, figs. 
17.11-17.15, 20.9). 

Often the fagade of an Italian church or palace seems to 
have little to do with the building behind it, and the side 
walls stand without articulation, flat and relatively 
untreated (see fig. 2.27). The facade was not considered an 
essential part of the structure but was, rather, a ceremonial 
decoration for the piazza before it, like the shrines still 
erected in south Italian streets to celebrate the festival of a 
saint. The facade sometimes does not even have the same 
number of stories as the building behind it, and it may 
tower far above, supported from behind by iron rods fas- 
tened to the roof beams. It is sometimes even lower than 
the bulk of the actual building. 

In a sense, the wall is the beginning and the end of much 
of Italian architecture, and it forms as well a broad field 
for fresco painting and a background for altarpieces and 


PRELUDE: ITALY AND ITALIAN ART * 35 


sculpture. The wall is the plane from which perspective 
thinking starts and new, harmonious spaces are created in 
a world projected beyond its surface, into which the 
observer is visually invited to step (see figs. 13.34-13.37). 
The wall is the screen on which, in a series of brilliant fres- 
coes painted during this period, Italian civic life and the 
Italian landscape are preserved through the fertility of the 
Italian imagination. 

Printmaking in the Renaissance 

The arts of sculpture and architecture as practiced in the 
Renaissance were largely commissioned by and paid for by 
elite members of society; while modestly priced paintings 
are documented during this period, few examples survive. 
Prints made from wooden blocks or copper plates on 
paper, however, could be mass produced and were there- 
fore available to a broader spectrum of society. Such prints 
were used to illustrate books and pamphlets (see fig. 
13.28) or as independent images (see fig. 8.22). The more 
modest of these works are usually anonymous, but in other 
cases the artists are known (see figs. 13.5, 17.60) or the 
works can be attributed to specific individuals. Some prints 
reproduce works of art and help to explain how contem- 
porary and later artists knew about famous paintings and 
sculptures that they had never seen (see figs. 16.26, 17.60). 
Others, such as a print after a design by Parmigianino (see 
fig. 18.52), are demonstrations of technical proficiency — 
yet another indication of how Renaissance artists desired 
to impress viewers with their skill. 

The two most common printmaking techniques used 
during our period are engraving and the woodblock print. 
For the former, a special pointed tool known as a burin 
was used to scratch sharp grooves into a copper plate. In a 
few cases artists experimented with a drypoint needle, 
which created raised metal, known as the burr, on either 
side of the groove; while this created a certain soft and pos- 
sibly atmospheric effect, the burr wore away quickly when 
the plate was printed. When completed, the engraved plate 
was covered with thick black ink and the excess wiped 
away, leaving the ink in the grooves. When a piece of 
slightly moistened paper was placed on the inked copper- 
plate and paper and plate were run through a printing 
press (or rubbed by hand), the ink in the grooves was 
transferred to the paper, which was then dried. To create a 
woodblock print, a chisel was used to cut away the surface 
in those parts of the design that were to be left neutral, 
leaving raised surfaces that were then inked. Moist paper 
was then applied and block and paper run through a press 
or rubbed by hand. The paper was then lifted from the 
block and dried. The two techniques offer different effects: 
in an engraving the forms are defined by line, while in a 


woodblock print the image is established through bold 
black or colored patterns against the neutral ground. The 
more complex technique of chiaroscuro woodblock 
printing, which required several woodblocks, is discussed 
on p. 580. 

The woodblock print illustrated in figure 13.28 was 
included in a pamphlet — part of the publishing explosion 
that occurred in the fifteenth century. The use of moveable 
metal type was pioneered by the German goldsmith and 
printer Johannes Gutenberg, whose famous Bible was 
published in 1455. This technique rapidly changed the pro- 
duction of books, and the publishing of books and 
pamphlets expanded exponentially in subsequent centuries. 
Presses had been established in Rome by 1467, Venice by 
1469, and Florence by 1471. By the end of the fifteenth 
century, books were being published in more than seventy 
Italian cities and towns. Wealthy families built up book 
collections during the Renaissance and new structures 
intended as libraries were constructed (see figs. 6.27, 18.12). 

The Practice of History 

Before proceeding with our examination of Renaissance 
art, another kind of practice needs to be discussed: that of 
history. The idea that history was worthy of study for its 
own sake was a new phenomenon in the Renaissance. 
While medieval theologians had defined the world of the 
past and the present within the context of Christian goals 
and institutions, Renaissance humanists defied these 
narrow parameters, analyzing and assessing historical evi- 
dence in search of answers that were not dependent on the 
doctrines promulgated by the Church. They were inspired 
in this research by the historical approach that they noted 
in the works of ancient historians. 

When Lionardo Bruni (see fig. 10.27), humanist chan- 
cellor of Florence, wrote his History of the Florentine 
People (published in 1444 by the Florentine Signoria), he 
researched his subject, consulted historical documents, and 
developed theories that placed Florence’s background 
within a larger historical context. He argued, for example, 
that Florence must have been founded during the Roman 
Republic, relating it to what he knew of Greek political 
practice and calling it “the new Athens on the Arno.” 

In recent decades scholars have grown increasingly inter- 
ested in historiography: the history and analysis of writing 
history. No historian is a mere compiler of facts. Even the 
choice of facts to include can be an indication of bias, and 
in this the Renaissance was no exception. In a peninsula 
dominated by autocratic rulers in other centers, for 
example, it was important for Bruni to emphasize that 
Florence was founded not in the ancient Roman 
Imperial period but in the Republican period, just as it was 


3 6 * THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 


important for Renaissance Florentines to believe that their 
Baptistery (see fig. 2.33) had been an ancient Roman 
temple to Mars. Keeping this in mind, we can turn briefly 
to the first historian of Italian art, Giorgio Vasari. 

The Practice of Art History: 
Giorgio Vasari 

The name that will appear more often than any other in 
this book is that of Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574), the first 
historian of Italian Renaissance art. The writer’s family 
name, Vasari, is derived from vasaio , “vase,” suggesting 
that an ancestor had been a potter, and we know that 
Vasari came from a family of artisans. Although he had a 
distinguished career as a painter and architect (see figs. 
20.40-20.43), he is best known for his work as a historian 
and critic. In 1550, Vasari published the first edition of his 
Lives of the Best Architects , Painters, and Sculptors ... 
(Le vite de piu eccellenti architetti, pittori , e scultori ... ). 
This two-volume work was more than 1,000 pages long 
and featured biographies of 133 artists as well as brief 
mentions of many others. The second, three-volume 
edition (1564-68) of the Lives ran to about 1,500 pages 
and included new information that Vasari had collected 
through correspondence, research, and travel, as well as 
discussion of such new categories of art as the temporary 
decorations for weddings, triumphal entries, funerals, 
and the many other pageants that played a role in Renais- 
sance life. This edition also had woodcut portraits of 
many artists. 

Vasari established a number of approaches that continue 
to influence the writing of art history, for better or — as 
some critics would argue — for worse. He organized his 
work around the individual artist in terms of biography, 
character, and style. In many cases, he suggested that the 
personality of the artist could be used to elucidate the 
works he or she created. In addition, he evaluated the art, 
distinguishing some artists and works as superlative. 
Vasari also recognized that artists must be understood in 
terms of the period in which they lived and worked. When 
Frederick Hartt completed the first edition of this book in 
1969, he followed Vasari’s precedent. As an artist himself, 
Vasari was well aware of the sometimes difficult and 
demanding role a patron could play in the creation of a 
work of art, and in the Lives he emphasizes the importance 
of patrons. In this seventh edition of Hartt’s book, the 
names of patrons are given in captions as a reminder of 
their essential role in the creation of many works of 
Renaissance art. 

Vasari explained the development of Renaissance art in 
terms of a trajectory. The concept of historical develop- 


ment or progress that he presented was derived from the 
writings of ancient authors. While he found little of inter- 
est in earlier Italian medieval art, Vasari argued that a 
revival of art, based on a new interest in imitating nature, 
had emerged in Tuscany in the works of Giotto and other 
thirteenth- and fourteenth-century artists. This first phase 
was followed in the fifteenth century by Vasari’s second 
phase in which, to quote the author, “all things are done 
better, with more invention and design, with a more beau- 
tiful style and greater industry.” The culmination that 
Vasari found in his third and final stage was, he 
argued, made possible by the discovery and study of 
ancient sculptures (see figs. 1.4-1. 6, 17.3-17.4). Vasari 
pointed out that this final phase was exemplified in the 
works of Michelangelo. 

The biases that Vasari brought to his task were many, 
however. While the artists of Florence were certainly the 
leaders in many Renaissance developments and deserve a 
special role in any history of Italian Renaissance art, the 
pre-eminence that Vasari granted Florentine art was exag- 
gerated. He dedicated his volumes to Cosimo I de’ Medici, 
and throughout the biographies he privileged the role of 
the Medici family in commissioning and collecting works 
of art. Vasari’s Lives was intended to inform a broad 
segment of the educated public about art, and it had a wide 
and immediate circulation; responses to his comments on 
German art, for example, were being written by German 
writers as early as 1573. Several authors in Italy and other 
European countries were inspired to write their own ver- 
sions of the Lives. Vasari’s work continues to be a crucial 
source of information and ideas. 

In addition to his role as artist and author, Vasari was 
one of the first collectors of drawings. In the Lives , he 
pointed out that preliminary sketches were the initial 
expression of the artistic idea, and he cited drawings in his 
own collection that demonstrated a specific artist’s per- 
sonal style and/or method. Vasari compiled his drawings 
into volumes, mounting them on large pieces of paper and 
enframing them with architectural and sculptural motifs 
drawn in his own style (fig. 1.20). Sometimes he would 
incorporate into this elegant presentation the woodcut 
portrait of the artist taken from the Lives. In the example 
illustrated here, Vasari’s frame features the broken pedi- 
ment popular in sixteenth-century art and architecture (see 
figs. 18.11, 19.27), and a reclining muscular figure 
inspired by Michelangelo. By collecting drawings, Vasari 
was emphasizing that everything an artist did, even a 
drawing made in preparation for a larger work, as in this 
example, was precious and should be preserved. 

Vasari’s comments will often be quoted or mentioned in 
this book. Because he knew personally many of the six- 
teenth-century artists about whom he wrote, because he so 


PRELUDE: ITALY AND ITALIAN ART * 37 


often mentions the diligence with which he undertook his 
task, and because he lived in a period much closer to the 
developments of the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth 
centuries than we do, it is tempting to accept everything 
that he has written. But, while many of his facts can be val- 
idated through other evidence, some have been found to be 
incorrect (see p. 271). His sources were often incomplete 
or inaccurate, and some of his contacts may not have told 


him the truth. In general he is weaker on the development 
of Renaissance art outside of the city of Florence than he 
is on the events of his hometown. Vasari’s personalized 
history of Italian Renaissance art must be read, like all his- 
tories, with an understanding of his cultural background 
and motivations in mind. Despite his flaws, however, 
Vasari is our earliest and most provocative source on the 
development of a beloved tradition of art. 



1.20. PIETRO PERUGINO. Head of a Man with a Long Beard, c. 1494. Drawing in silverpoint and pen on brown-prepared paper, heightened 
with white and in a mount by Giorgio Vasari, 10 3 /4 x 7" (24.7 x 17.9 cm). British Museum, London. Vasari’s book of drawings was ultimately 
taken apart and the drawings scattered in various collections. In some cases Vasari’s frames were lost or damaged. In this example, only the upper 
part of the frame survived; the lower part is a restoration. For works by Perugino, see figs. 14.16-14.20. 


38 


THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 


1 


PART ONE 

THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 





SIMONE MARTINI and 
UPPOMEMMJ. 
Annunciation 
(sec fig, 4,17). 


2. Duecento Art in Tuscany and Rome 

3. Florentine Art of the Early Trecento 

4. Sienese Art of the Early Trecento 

5. Later Gothic Art in Tuscany and Northern Italy 


40 

72 

102 

1 36 


' - 









2 

DUECENTO ART IN TUSCANY 

AND ROME 


T he first manifestations of a new style in paint- 
ing and sculpture seem to have taken place in 
Tuscany. This region in central Italy between 
the Apennines and the Mediterranean corre- 
sponds roughly to an area that was inhabited 
in ancient times by the Etruscans, from whom the medieval 
Tuscans were in part descended and from whom the name 
Tuscany is derived. Shortly after 1100, this region became 
the scene of new political developments when the cities of 
Pisa, Lucca, Pistoia, Prato, and Florence constituted them- 
selves as free communes or republics. Liberated from 
control by the counts of Tuscany after the death of Count- 
ess Matilda in 1115, they owed a somewhat shadowy alle- 
giance to either the Holy Roman Emperor or, in the case of 
Florence, the pope. On a day-to-day basis, however, these 
affiliations were often irrelevant. Siena also eventually 
established itself as an independent republic free from 
the domination of the bishop and neighboring feudal 
lords, while the success of Florentine commercial endeav- 
ors led to a growing spirit of independence among the 
city’s citizens. 


Opposite: 2.1. NICOLA PISANO. Pisa Baptistery pulpit. 1260. 
White Carrara marble, variegated red marble, polished granite, 
originally with inlaid and painted highlights, patterned glass, 
height approx. 15’ (4.6 m). t Baptistery, Pisa. Commissioned by 
Archbishop Federigo Visconti. The inscription on the pulpit reads: 

“In the year 1260 Nicola Pisano carved this noble work. May so 
greatly gifted a hand be praised as it deserves.” 

This is one of many works of Italian art still located in the structures 
for which they were created. The original settings give these works an 
important sense of context that would be lost were they moved to a 
museum. To understand individual pieces, it is sometimes helpful to 
remember what other works were originally found in the same context. 


Within these new Tuscan city-states a struggle for power 
developed between the merchant class and the old nobility, 
and in this conflict a premium was placed on the value and 
initiative of the individual. The new middle class that arose 
during the thirteenth century provided a rich market and a 
powerful incentive for the new art — an impulse encour- 
aged by the transformation of personal and communal reli- 
gious life during this period through the teachings of St. 
Francis of Assisi (d. 1226) and St. Dominic (1170-1221) 
and the religious orders they founded. 

The term Italians use to refer to the thirteenth century 
(the 1200s) is “Duecento,” an abbreviation based on the 
term “Mille-duecento” (one thousand, two hundred). Tre- 
cento is used for the fourteenth century, Quattrocento for 
the fifteenth, and Cinquecento for the sixteenth. The qual- 
ities of Duecento painting came to be appreciated more 
fully in the twentieth century; thirteenth-century Italian art 
was influenced by Byzantine art — the painting of the 
highly developed Greek-speaking culture that flourished in 
Constantinople at this time — and the Italian variation on 
this tradition had previously been judged provincial and 
stagnant. According to Vasari, painters from the East (he 
called them “Greeks”) had even been called to Florence, 
where Cimabue, whom Vasari considered the first truly 
Florentine painter, watched them work and then surpassed 
what Vasari called their “rude” manner. Vasari knew little, 
of course, about the intellectual and refined quality of later 
Byzantine painting, but there is a germ of truth in his story. 
Greek mosaicists had been called to the court of King 
Roger II of Sicily in the twelfth century (fig. 2.2), where 
they founded a new school of Italo-Byzantine art. Byzan- 
tine influence in thirteenth-century Europe is also in part 
explained by the Sack of Constantinople in 1204 by the 
Crusaders, who devastated the churches and the Great 
Palace. The artistic works taken by the Crusaders — 
painted icons, manuscripts, ivory carvings, enamels, 


DUECENTO ART IN TUSCANY AND ROME • 41 



2.2. ITALO-BYZANTINE. Christ Pantocrator, the Virgin Mary, 
Angels, Saints, and Prophets. 1148. Apse mosaic. Cathedral, 
Cefalu, Sicily. 


fabrics with woven pictures, liturgical vessels — were scat- 
tered throughout Europe, where their refined style and 
impressive craftsmanship inspired local artists. 

Byzantine art impressed through its sophisticated style — 
featuring delicately posed, slender figures and vivid 
colors — and its rich materials, including gold, ivory, and 
enamel. Greek painters themselves, with few opportunities 
in Constantinople, may have been drawn by the wealth of 
Venice and the Tuscan cities. The earliest Italo-Byzantine 
paintings demonstrate Italian artists’ reliance on Byzantine 
models, with the anatomy divided into clearly demarcated 
and delicately shaded areas and light on drapery rendered 
by means of parallel lines of color or gold. But these works 
also display a vigor and tension that distinguish them from 
the Eastern examples that inspired them. 


Painting in Pisa 

So little is left of Tuscan painting before 1200 that it is 
impossible to reconstruct the course of its development, 
but the earliest surviving examples are in some ways closer 
to the art of Romanesque Europe than to that of the 
Byzantine East. Probably as a result of the conquest of 
Constantinople, however, Byzantine influence during the 
Duecento rapidly became dominant, as is evident in exam- 
ples painted in Pisa, a powerful seaport since Roman 
times. In 1133, under Pope Innocent II, Pisa was briefly the 
seat of the papacy, and St. Bernard called it “a new Rome.” 
The republic was in constant commercial competition and 
naval warfare with the rival ports of Genoa to the north- 
west and Amalfi, south of Naples. 

One of the earliest surviving Italian panel pictures is the 
anonymous and undated Cross No. 15, which was proba- 
bly made in Pisa (fig. 2.3). This large work, perhaps 
intended for a choir screen, shows Christ alive on the 
cross. Scenes from the Passion and subsequent events are 
placed on the areas to either side (known as the apron) and 
at the ends of the bars of the cross. A cross with a Christ 
who is represented alive is termed a Christus triumphans 
(Christ triumphant). The purpose of these crucifixes seems 
to have been to present an image of a powerful deity who 



2.3. SCHOOL OF PISA. Cross No. 15. Late twelfth century. Panel, 
9'3 " x 7'9 3 /4" (2.82 x 2.38 m). Pinacoteca, Pisa. 


42 • THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 



could overcome the torment of the Crucifixion. In the 
backgrounds of the scenes, the arches and columns recall 
the Romanesque architecture of Pisa’s Cathedral, Baptis- 
tery, and Bell Tower — the famous Leaning Tower. 

The palette of colors used by the artist — blue, rose, 
white, tan, gold — is simple, and the style, considering the 
potential drama of the subject, is restrained. Clear con- 
tours outline major elements, and the linear treatment of 
the drapery is related to that of contemporary Tuscan 
Romanesque sculpture. Christ’s body is modeled with del- 
icacy, as though carved in low relief. The wide-open eyes 
stare impassively outward. Against the elaborate architec- 
tural structures, the scenes from the Passion are repre- 


sented as if they were incidents from a stylized ritual rather 
than events that happened to real people. All in all, the 
style recalls the manuscript painting of the Romanesque 
period in Italy more than anything Byzantine. 

Compared to this rather static painting, Cross No. 20 , 
also still in Pisa (fig. 2.4), conveys a range of emotional 
values. Christ is shown dead, and it was perhaps the direct 
appeal to the feelings of the spectator of this type, known 
as the Christus patiens (suffering Christ), that explains 
why it rapidly replaced the Christus triumph ans. Again we 
know neither the date of the painting nor the identity of 
the artist, but it is evident that he was strongly influenced 
by Byzantine art. The pose of the body, with the hips 



* 43 


DUECENTO ART IN TUSCANY AND ROME 



2.5. BYZANTINE. Lamentation. 
c. 1164. Fresco. St. Pantaleimon, 
Nerezi, near Skopje, Macedonia. 


curving to our left, is common in Byzantine representa- 
tions. By analogy with dated works, it is possible to 
suggest a date of about 1230. 

The change in content and style between the two Pisan 
crosses can be partly explained by the spread of the devo- 
tional practices of St. Francis of Assisi. Francis preached 
and practiced a direct devotion to Christ and is said to 
have received the miracle of the stigmata — wounds in the 
hands, feet, and side that paralleled those of Christ at the 
Crucifixion. Although it is difficult to confirm a direct con- 
nection, it seems likely that the religious emotionalism of 
Francis and his followers, which was widely disseminated 
by the Franciscan Order, would have affected the interpre- 
tation and representation of religious subjects in art. 

The new emotional content is evident throughout Cross 
No. 20: note Christ’s sad expression and the drama evoked 
in the scenes from the Passion, in which architectural back- 
grounds are subordinated to human content. Everywhere 
the flow of line — in the hair and delicately delineated fea- 
tures, in the slender fingers, and in the composition of the 
scenes silhouetted against gold — achieves effects that are 
both expressive and decorative. In the Lamentation panel, 
long delicate lines move downward with increasing fre- 
quency through the angels’ wings to Mary and the body of 
her son, which rests on her lap. This elegant group was 
derived from Byzantine sources. The subject of Mary 
holding the dead Christ on her lap as she had held him as 
a child is not found in the Bible, and it was apparently the 
tenth-century theologian Simeon Metaphrastes who first 
described this theme. As early as the twelfth century it was 
being represented in Byzantine art, as can be seen in a 


fresco of about 1164 at Nerezi (fig. 2.5); an icon with a 
similar representation may have migrated to Pisa. Cross 
No. 20 is one of the earliest Italian examples of the repre- 
sentation of the tragic relationship between the dead Christ 
and his mother, which became an important subject for 
artists of the Renaissance. For the most famous example, 
by Michelangelo, see figures 16.37-16.38. By the late years 
of the Trecento, this theme was called the Viet a (Italian for 
both “piety” and “pity”). 

Painting in Lucca 

Similar stages may be discerned in the painting of Lucca, a 
rival republic about 15 miles from Pisa whose wealth was 
derived from banking activities. An altarpiece of St. 
Francis with Scenes from his Life (fig. 2.6) in Pescia, a 
town between Lucca and Pistoia, is signed by Bonaventura 
Berlinghieri, a member of a family of painters founded by 
his father, Berlinghiero Berlinghieri, who had come to 
Lucca from Milan. The work is dated 1235, only nine 
years after the death of St. Francis. Although it is the ear- 
liest known image of the saint, there is no evidence that 
Tuscans in the Duecento attached any importance to por- 
trait likeness. We can, however, deduce from the intensity 
of the face, with its emaciated cheeks and piercing gaze, a 
great deal about the meaning of St. Francis’s message to his 
contemporaries. Bonaventura has shown us an ascetic 
Francis of private meditations and ecstatic prayers. 

The placement of scenes from the life of the saint to 
either side of the central figure was probably inspired by 
painted crosses. Two of the narrative scenes have land- 


44 


THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 



2.6. BON AVENTURA BERLINGHIERI. St. Francis with Scenes from his Life . 1235. Panel, 
5' x 3'9 3 /4" {1.52 x 1.16 m). it S. Francesco, Pescia. 


scape backgrounds in which the Byzantine models for 
painting hills are schematized and simplified. At the same 
time, the color and shapes suggest a new interest in nature 
as a vital force, and the narratives demonstrate a new 
interest in human emotional reactions. There is, however, 
no attempt to represent natural space, and the architec- 
tural settings are adopted almost without change from 
Byzantine formulas; they show no relation to the 
Romanesque architecture of Lucca in Bonaventura’s day. 


Painting in Florence 

Until the Duecento, Pisa and Lucca were more populous 
and powerful than Florence, and Florentine painting seems 
to have had a slightly later start. But even its earliest exam- 
ples show a greater power and plasticity than is found in 
the works of the two rival schools. 

Coppo di Marcovaldo (active 1260s-70s), the first 
named Florentine painter, is generally accepted as the artist 


DUECENTO ART IN TUSCANY AND ROME * 45 




2.7. COPPO DI MARCOVALDO. 
Crucifix . Second half of thirteenth 
century. Panel, 9'7 3 /8" x 8 'V 4 " (2.93 x 
2.47 m). Pinacoteca, San Gimignano. 
Few of Coppo’s works can be securely 
dated, but surviving evidence 
indicates a relatively brief period of 
artistic activity, from around the late 
1250s to the early 1270s. 


of the Crucifix (fig. 2.7) in San Gimignano, which was 
then in Sienese territory. Coppo, who was deeply influ- 
enced by the Byzantine style, shows us a Christ whose 
sculpted body and face are convulsed and distorted with 
suffering, and whose loincloth, hanging low at the waist, is 


broken into deep-set angles projected with a violence 
unusual in Italian art. The closed eyes are treated as two 
fierce, hooked slashes, while the mouth seems to quiver 
against the sweat-soaked locks of the beard and the hair 
seems to writhe like snakes against the tormented body. 


4 6 • 


THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 


Even the halo, carved into a raised disk broken by wedge- 
like indentations, plays a part in heightening the expressive 
power of the representation. 

Coppo fought in the Battle of Montaperti in 1260 and 
was taken prisoner by the Sienese after the Florentine 
defeat; it has been suggested that the emotional content of 
his Crucifix reflects his wartime experiences. Compared 
with the Lamentation in Cross No . 20, Coppo’s scene of 
the same subject suggests the immediacy of a family 
tragedy. Christ lies rigid on the ground, his head held by 
his mother; the other figures use gesture and glance to 
suggest strong emotion, and the landscape, with its dra- 
matic verticals, adds further tension. 

The subject of Coppo’s Madonna and Child (fig. 2.8) 
does not allow the emotive outbursts sensed in the Cruci- 



2.8. COPPO DI MARCOVALDO. Madonna and Child, c. 1265. 
Panel, 7'9 3 /4" x 4 ' 5 1 / 8 " (2.38 x 1.35 m). S. Martino dei Servi, Orvieto. 


fix , but the artist’s intensity of feeling is evident in the form 
and design. Coppo follows traditional Byzantine represen- 
tations in showing the Virgin seated on a throne, crowned 
as Queen of Heaven and holding her son, his hand raised 
in blessing, upon her knee. Her expression is a reference to 
the suffering and death of Christ; Coppo’s Madonna is 
mournful because she senses the tragic events to come. 

Although technical examination has revealed that the 
faces of the Madonna and Child were overpainted at a 
later date, they still retain much of Coppo’s style in the 
emphasis on linear accents in the nose, lips, and eyes, divi- 
sions that are strengthened by the harsh modeling. Every 
shape is treated as an abstracted form, severe and clear-cut. 
Here Coppo’s wedge-shaped depressions in the halo are 
smaller and more numerous than those in the Crucifix , cre- 
ating a glitter of gold around the face. The energetic Christ 
Child, remarkably unchildlike in appearance and holding a 
scroll in his left hand, is represented as savior and teacher. 
Coppo’s dramatic style is also evident in the drapery, 
which is cut up in folds that are outlined by gold striations. 
These sharp, intense, and irregular sunburst shapes, which 
have little to do with the behavior of cloth, enliven the 
image and add tension to the representation. 

The cycle of mosaics in the vault of the Baptistery of Flo- 
rence (see fig. 2.33) is the most important pictorial under- 
taking of the Duecento in Florence. The Last Judgment on 
the west face (fig. 2.9) is attributed to Coppo. Such a 
prominent commission allowed him to display the vigor of 
his imagination and the power of his forms on an enor- 
mous scale. The central figure, more than 25 feet (7 m) 
high, is clear in design, with the masses broken into seg- 
ments that are richly modeled in color. Foliate ornament 
adorns the border of the mandorla that surrounds him. 
Fixing the spectator with his gaze, Christ beckons with his 
right arm toward the blessed, while with his left he casts 
the damned into eternal fire. The athletic figures leaping 
from their tombs on the right are attributed to Coppo, as 
is the terrifying hell scene, in which a few punishments and 
demons suffice for the whole. Around Satan, the writhing 
serpents and monstrous toads that devour the damned are 
rendered with the zigzag shapes characteristic of Coppo’s 
style. Coppo’s mosaic of Christ was the most awe-inspiring 
representation of divinity in Italian art until Michelangelo. 
Although his name was not mentioned in later sources, 
Coppo’s vision inspired, directly or indirectly, generations 
of Florentine artists. 

The painter Cenni di Pepi (active c. 1272-1302) is better 
known by the nickname Cimabue, which can be translated 
as “ox head” or “dehorner of oxen.” The latter interpre- 
tation might refer to Cimabue’s personality, which an early 
source describes as proud and arrogant. Whatever the 
meaning of this particular moniker, it is interesting at this 


DUECENTO ART IN TUSCANY AND ROME * 47 





' n 


.Slj 




ligi 


"■ S’ - 

3* m 











early moment in our survey of Italian art to note that many 
later artists are also best known by nicknames, including 
Cavallini, Masaccio, and Donatello. In most introductions 
to the history of art, Cimabue appears as the earliest of 
Florentine — and therefore of Italian — painters . This is 
where Vasari, who considered everything between the col- 
lapse of the Roman Empire and Cimabue’s time to be 
clumsy, positioned him in his history of Italian art. In 
reality, Cimabue belongs not at the beginning of a devel- 
opment but at its end: he is the last Italo-Byzantine painter. 
Cimabue summed up a tradition that had been pervasive 
for nearly a century in Tuscany, and — splendid though his 
creations are — he began nothing essentially new. 

The large, unsigned Enthroned Madonna and Child 
with Angels and Prophets (fig. 2.10), painted for Santa 
Trinita in Florence, has long been attributed to Cimabue. 
It is the most ambitious panel painting attempted by any 
Italian artist up until that time. When seen by candlelight 
inside the dark and lofty church, it must have made an 
overwhelming impression. The enthroned Madonna, 
shown without a crown, presents her child to the viewer. 
Angels seem to be holding up the throne, while in the 
arches below, Old Testament prophets provide a textual 
foundation by displaying scrolls with prophecies of the 
Virgin Birth. The throne’s structure and its relationship to 
the angels is not clear. Cimabue does not even seem to have 
made up his mind whether the curves beneath the throne 
are arches in elevation, niches in depth, or both. 

The Christ Child holds a scroll and looks directly at the 
observer. The gold striations of the drapery, derived from 
Byzantine tradition, have proliferated; hundreds of lines 
create a glittering network of shapes, as if the artist were 
trying to overwhelm the faithful with the regal majesty of 
his figure — an effect that would have been even more 
remarkable when the painting was still in situ in Santa 
Trinita. The blue pigment of the Virgin’s mantle has dark- 
ened, but it was originally a brilliant blue, the customary 
color, as is the rose tone of her tunic. The angels’ colorful 
wings and the gold striations would have emphasized the 
broad areas of vivid blue. 

Cimabue’s drawing style is restrained, in contrast to the 
power suggested by Coppo’s broad lines. The eye structure 
is characteristic of his style, with the lower lid almost hor- 
izontal, the upper lid shaped like an upside-down V, and 
the sidelong glance contrasting with the downward tilt of 
the head. Cimabue had a keen sense of modeling, and he 



2.10. CIMABUE. Enthroned Madonna and Child with Angels and 
Prophets , c. 1280. Panel, 117" x 7'4 H (3.53 x 2.24 m). Uffizi Gallery, 
Florence. Commissioned for the high altar of Sta. Trinita, Florence. 
The Uffizi Gallery is found in a structure designed by Vasari as an 
office building (uffizi means “offices” in Italian) for Cosimo I de’ 
Medici (see fig. 20.41). The core of the collection consists of works 
originally commissioned or owned by the Medici family, including 
many works of ancient sculpture, but the museum also has works 
such as this from Florentine churches. The Uffizi Gallery is a good 
place to achieve an overview of Florentine Renaissance painting, 
but the fresco paintings that represent some of the most impressive 
works created by Florentine artists during the Renaissance are found 
on the walls where they were originally painted in Florence, Padua, 
and Rome. 


2.9. Mosaics of the Last Judgment , Ranks of Angels, and Scenes from the Old Testament and the Lives of Christ and St . John the Baptist, the 
central figure of Christ in the Last Judgment has been attributed to Coppo di Marcovaldo. Second half of thirteenth century. Baptistery, Florence. 
The other registers of the Baptistery vault feature scenes from the Old Testament and the lives of Christ and John the Baptist. These same themes 
were later represented on the bronze doors added to the Baptistery in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries (see figs. 3.33, 7.4, 10.1). 


DUECENTO ART IN TUSCANY AND ROME * 49 


delicately shaded the drapery except for the gold-striated 
garments of Christ and the Virgin. None of the forms 
seems weighty, however, and no head is really three- 
dimensional. Cimabue wished to show everything that he 
knew to exist, depicting both ears even in a three-quarters 
view of the face, as though no solid mass of the head 
should intervene to hide one. The idea that the image of an 
object was received by the human eye as a reflection of 
light had yet to find its way into painting. At the same 
time, however, Cimabue differentiated psychological types 
carefully, as in the distinction between the youthful 
angels and the Old Testament prophets below. He 
delighted in rendering complicated shapes, long, slender 
fingers, and, for the throne, ornament derived from classi- 
cal sources. Even on the gold background, he did not stop 
inventing: the background and the haloes are enriched 
with shifting patterns of incised lines and a series of 
punched dots. 


Cimabue’s adherence to the Byzantine style is best 
demonstrated in a large Crucifix , perhaps originally 
intended for the rood beam or choir screen of Santa Croce 
in Florence (figs. 2.11-2.12). Cimabue based his composi- 
tion on the Byzantine-inspired Christus patiens (see figs. 
2.4, 2.7), but his version is both enormous in size and sim- 
plified in subject and composition. The patterned apron 
and text at the top do not distract us from the body of 
Christ, while the half-length figures of the Virgin and John 
the Evangelist in the side terminals, their heads inclined 
inward, direct our attention back to the suffering Christ. 
The heads and hands of the two subsidiary figures are styl- 
ized and segmented in the Byzantine manner, as is the huge 
body of Christ, which sways even more dramatically than 
did the figure in the Crucifix by Coppo (see fig. 2.7). Yet 
through subtle changes in the basic Byzantine pattern, 
Cimabue created an image of powerful expressiveness. The 
transparent loincloth allows us to experience the full sweep 



2.11. CIMABUE. Crucifix (before damage 
sustained in a 1966 flood). 1280s. Panel, 14'3' 1 
12’7" (4.35 x 3.84 m). Museo di Sta. Croce, 
Florence. This cross is not signed, but it was 
attributed to Cimabue by Vasari and other 
early authors. 


x 


5 ° * 


THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 


2.12. CIMABUE. Crucifix (fig. 2.11, after 
restoration). A flood on November 4, 1966 
severely damaged this painting. There were fifty- 
six earlier documented floods, including major 
ones in 1177, 1333, and 1557, but the one in 
1966 seems to have been the worst in Florence’s 
history. At the time, Cimabue’s Crucifix was 
displayed in the ex-refectory of Sta. Croce (see 
fig. 3.31), where the surging waters of the flood 
were approximately 20 feet high. The painting 
was damaged when folding wooden chairs 
stored in the refectory, which was often used for 
meetings, were lifted by the surging water and 
banged against its surface. The areas that were 
lost have been left unrestored. Many important 
Italian archives were lost with the flooding of the 
National Library, adjacent to Sta. Croce. 



of the swaying body, and Cimabue increased the sense of 
tension by stretching the arms outward rather than letting 
them sag as they had in earlier Byzantine and Italian exam- 
ples. Although the sense of Christ’s suffering has increased, 
the figure still follows the elegant, two-dimensional Byzan- 
tine pattern. The abstraction with which Cimabue 
approached his subject is evident in his treatment of the 
blood that flows from the wounds in Christ’s hands; rather 
than sticking to his flesh naturalistically, it falls straight 
downward and pools only when it encounters the decora- 
tive gold border. 

Cimabue was a monumental artist not just in tempera, 
but in fresco and mosaic as well; he probably continued 
the Baptistery mosaics started by Coppo and others. His 
abilities as a fresco painter are suggested by his cycle of 
frescoes at the church of San Francesco at Assisi. 

St. Francis, who was called the Poverello (little poor man) 
of Assisi and who married “Lady Poverty” by renouncing 


all possessions, is enshrined in a double church erected 
over his tomb. Probably built with the collaboration of 
French and German architects, the Upper Church is almost 
completely lined with frescoes, and its windows are filled 
with stained glass (see fig. 2.15). These cycles make this the 
most nearly complete large-scale cycle of religious imagery 
in Italy before the Sistine Chapel (see figs. 14.17, 17.23). 
Cimabue’s poorly preserved Crucifixion (fig. 2.13) is diffi- 
cult to decipher because the whites, painted with white 
lead, have oxidized and turned black with time. Later 
painters learned from this transformation, and Cennini 
warned painters not to use white lead on walls. 

Cimabue here conceived the Crucifixion as a universal 
catastrophe. Christ writhes on the cross, his head bent in 
pain — perhaps already in death, although this is impossible 
to determine in the fresco’s present state. A great wind 
seems to have broken loose, perhaps in reference to the 
sudden darkness that accompanied the Crucifixion. (When 


DUECENTO ART IN TUSCANY AND ROME * 5 I 



2 .13, CIMABUE. Fresco cycle. 
After 1279, Approx. 17x24' 
(5.18 x 7.32 m). Upper Church 
of S. Francesco. Assisi. Perhaps 
commissioned by Pope Nicholas 
III OrsinL In the bottom register 
is the Crucifixion. The ruined 
lunette fresco above may have 
represented Christ in G /on 1 . The 
angels seen behind the arcade are 
in a better condition than the 
larger frescoes and give a better 
sense of Cimabue's color palette. 
The ruined scene to the right of 
the Crucifixion is The Vision of 
the Throne and the Book of 
Seven Seals* an unusual scene 
based on the New Testament 
Book of Revelations (4:2-4 ). 


an eclipse of the sun takes place, a strong and unexpected 
wind sweeps across the landscape.) Angels hover in rhe air, 
their drapery blown by the fierce wind, and hands reach 
upward from rhe crowd below toward the crucified Christ. 
From his side blood and water — allusions to the sacra- 
ments of the Eucharist and baptism — pour into a cup held 
by a flying angel. To our left are Mary, the other holy 


women, and the apostles; on the opposite side are the 
Romans, chief priests, and elders, including the dramati- 
cally posed figure of the soldier who recognized Christ as 
the son of God. Even from this ruined fresco we can under- 
stand that Cimabue was interested in hold theatrical effects 
and in creating a narrative scene that could project the 
intensity of a moment of revelation* 


J 2 * THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 



Painting in Rome 

While Cimabue ruled the Florentine scene, a remarkable 
school of painters was working in Rome, where the prac- 
tice of mural decoration in fresco and mosaic had contin- 
ued unbroken since at least the Early Christian period. 
Fresco painting probably links back to the ancient Romans 
and perhaps even the Etruscans. The late thirteenth 
century saw a brief increase in pictorial activity in Rome 
that continued until the seat of the papacy moved from 
Rome to Avignon in southern France in the early four- 
teenth century. The arrival of Greek masters from Con- 
stantinople after 1204 may have given Roman artists a 
certain impetus; it is documented that in 1218 Pope 
Honorius III imported mosaicists — probably either Greek 
or Greek-trained — from Venice. 

The climax of Duecento monumental art in Rome is the 
apse mosaic of Santa Maria Maggiore (fig. 2.14), signed by 


Jacopo Torrid and executed during the pontificate of 
Nicholas IV (1285-1294). It shows how a Roman artist of 
the period responded to both the city’s Early Christian her- 
itage and the imported style from Byzantium. In the center, 
Christ and the Virgin, robed in gold with blue shadows, 
are seated on a cushion with their feet on footstools. The 
blue of their robes is repeated throughout the composition, 
starting with the deep blue background of their mandorla, 
which is studded with silver stars. The gold ground is 
crowded with curling acanthus scrolls populated by ducks, 
doves, parrots, pheasants, cranes, and peacocks. The 
colors within the shell-niche at the crown of the apse move 
through a startling succession: gold, sky blue, rose, and 
green. The mosaic combines the subject of the Coronation 
of the Virgin with the linear style of Byzantine mosaic art, 
while the scrolls and shell-niche are based on late Roman 
examples, probably of the mid-fifth century. Torriti’s work 
embodies fragments of a fifth-century mosaic, including a 



2.14. JACOPO TORRITI. Coronation of the Virgin, c. 1294. Apse mosaic. Sta. Maria Maggiore, Rome. The scenes between the windows 
below are the Nativity , the Dormition of the Virgin , and the Adoration of the Magi. 


DUECENTO ART IN TUSCANY AND ROME * 53 



river god and a sailing ship just visible at the bottom left. 
More important than these diverse origins (including the 
pre-Christian river god) is the ease with which they are 
harmonized. The drapery motifs, for example, are at once 
Byzantine in their linearity, Gothic in their amplitude, and 
classical in their unity. A new style was emerging in Rome, 
in which the three currents most prevalent in the formation 
of Italian art were approaching fusion. Whether there is 
any reflection here of the developments taking place in the 
work of the youthful Giotto (see fig. 3.2) or at Assisi 
remains difficult to determine. 

At Assisi, several Roman painters, including Torrid, 
were active in the nave of the Upper Church of San 
Francesco (fig. 2.15), probably after Cimabue had finished 
his work in the transept and choir. One of these, called the 
Isaac Master, painted two scenes from the story of Isaac 
and Jacob (fig. 2.16) in the upper level of frescoes. In the 
Isaac and Esau scene, a flat ceiling with a diamond pattern 
in dark and light to indicate coffering, the elaborate hang- 
ings on the bed, and a little colonnade at its base are motifs 
often found in Roman thirteenth-century art (see fig. 2.18), 
while the drapery curves — at once classical, Byzantine, and 
Gothic — recall those of Torrid. 


The narrative is tense. In the adjoining fresco, Jacob, 
abetted by Rebecca, has received the blessing of the blind 
Isaac by impersonating his brother Esau (Genesis 
27:5-27). Here Esau, Isaac’s favorite son, returns expect- 
ing the blessing. Isaac, realizing he has been tricked, says 
to Esau, “Who art thou?” Isaac’s startled pose expresses 
the Bible’s report that he “trembled very exceedingly” 
(Genesis 27:32-33), while the deceiver Jacob slinks away 
to the right. Stiff as the scene may be in poses and gestures, 
and imperfectly realized in the weightlessness of the bodies 
under their drapery, this unidentified painter was able to 
express psychological interaction and to capture the dra- 
matic significance of a narrative with a subtlety not seen in 
earlier surviving works. Also new here is the modeling of 
the faces and hands, which reveals the artist’s close obser- 
vation of light. A date in the 1280s or early 1290s seems 
likely, but the identity of this artist remains unknown. 

It was Pietro Cavallini (Pietro de’ Cerroni, nicknamed 
Cavallino, “little horse”) who transfigured Roman paint- 
ing by his discovery of how light realized form. Born in 
about 1240, he was active until about 1330. We know 
little about Cavallini, but a notation by his son tells us that 
he lived to a hundred and never covered his head, even in 



2.15. View of the frescoes on the side wall of the Upper Church of S. Francesco, Assisi, with scenes from the life of St. Francis on the bottom tier 
(see fig. 3.26). Above are scenes from the Old Testament, including, in the second bay from the right, scenes from the story of Isaac and Esau 
attributed to the Isaac Master (see fig. 2.16). 


54 * THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 




2.16. ISAAC MASTER. Isaac Discovers that He Has Been Tricked 
by Jacob. 1280s or early 1290s. Fresco, 10 x 10' (3x3 m). Upper 
Church of S. Francesco, Assisi. 


the worst days of winter. The Florentine sculptor Lorenzo 
Ghiberti, who knew frescoes and mosaics by Cavallini that 
are still preserved and others that have perished, including 
cycles in Old St. Peter’s and elsewhere, called him a “most 
noble master” and praised his work for its “great relief,” 
meaning three-dimensionality. 

Cavallini’s new style seems to have been the result of the 
careful study he made of Early Christian frescoes after he 
was commissioned to restore the partially ruined frescoes 
of Old and New Testament scenes that decorated the nave 
of Rome’s St. Paul’s Outside the Walls. He probably also 
examined the surviving Early Christian mosaics that sur- 
vived in the city. Although his work at St. Paul’s was 
destroyed in a fire in 1823, watercolor copies of some of 
the scenes are preserved; here we reproduce Christ Preach- 
ing in Jerusalem , with a Donor (fig. 2.17). It is not clear 
whether this fresco was based on remains of an Early 
Christian work or whether it was a new invention by Cav- 
allini designed to fit stylistically with the early frescoes that 
had survived in reasonably good condition. In any case, 
Cavallini expressed the late Roman naturalism that had 
survived into the Early Christian period with well-lit, 
rounded, three-dimensional figures, soft drapery folds, 



2.17. Copy after PIETRO CAVALLINI. Christ Preaching in Jerusalem , with a Donor , watercolor copy of lost fresco from 
St. Paul’s Outside the Walls, Rome. The watercolor preserves the composition of Cavallini’s lost fresco, which was executed in 
the late 1270s. Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Ms. Barb. Lat 4406, f. 119. 


DUECENTO ART IN TUSCANY AND ROME » 55 




TUnffl- 


H-mxm geftsms MMM 


w; . 


2.18. PIETRO C AVAL LINI. Birth of 
the Virgin . Late 1290s. Mosaic, figures 
approximately life-sized. Sta. Maria in 
Trastevere, Rome. Commissioned by Bertoldo 
Stefaneschi. For later examples of this same 
subject, see figs. 9.11, 18.17. 


deep architectural settings, clear gestures, and well-ordered 
compositions of figures set in the foreground. The fresco 
preserved in the watercolor had these qualities, whether it 
was largely Early Christian or largely (or completely) by 
Cavallini. The centralized composition with the apostles 
gathered around Christ bears a startling resemblance to 
one of the first great works of Renaissance painting, 
Masaccio’s Tribute Money (see fig. 8.9), although there is 
probably no connection between the two. 

The most important achievements by Cavallini still 
visible in Rome are the mosaics in the apse of Santa Maria 


in Trastevere and the fragmentary frescoes in Santa 
Cecilia in Trastevere, both of which Ghiberti mentions but 
neither of which can be securely dated beyond the proba- 
bility that they were done in the 1290s. The classical sty- 
listic idioms that Cavallini learned at St. Paul’s are evident 
in the Birth of the Virgin (fig. 2.18) from the series of the 
life of the Virgin in Santa Maria in Trastevere. The back- 
ground appears like a stage set based on ancient Roman 
domestic architecture and shrines, while its inlaid orna- 
ment derives from Roman medieval sources. The women 
by the mother’s couch and the two midwives about to 



2.19. PIETRO CAVALLINI. Last Judgment (detail of damaged fresco). 1290s. Sta. Cecilia in Trastevere, Rome. 


5 6 * THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 


bathe the newborn Mary (a theme borrowed from repre- 
sentations of the birth of Christ; see fig. 2.20) carry their 
bread, wine, and water with the solemnity of a ritual. The 
figures are imbued with classical grace and simplicity, 
while the drapery masses recall Greek and Roman sculp- 
ture in the breadth of their forms and the ease with which 
the folds fall, in sharp contrast to the tense complexity of 
the drapery of Torrid or the Isaac Master. Most impor- 
tantly, the suggestion of three-dimensionality in heads and 
bodies seems to depend largely on the play of light. 

This is a fundamental revolution in artistic vision, and it 
is clear that it came about through an intimate acquain- 
tance with Early Christian models, both frescoes and 
mosaics. An even sharper transformation is visible in Cav- 
allini’s fragmentary fresco of the Last Judgment in Santa 
Cecilia in Trastevere (fig. 2.19), which is all that remains 
of a cycle that once covered the walls of the church. In the 
enthroned Christ and apostles, whose rich coloristic har- 
monies are dominated by soft orange and green, and in the 
angels with feathers in graduated colors, there is a new 
sense of mass and texture revealed through light. Cav- 
allini’s illumination, while still not originating from a 
single source — that development would not occur for more 
than a century — plays richly on the drapery and faces of 
the seated apostles. Forms seem to have roundness through 
the action of light. A columnar roundness makes the 
anatomical structure of the neck palpable in a manner not 
found in art since ancient times. Although the locks of hair 
are still somewhat patterned, the beards are naturalistic in 
texture and the mantles have a soft and silky sheen, no 
doubt due in part to Cavallini’s adoption of the Roman use 
of marble dust in his intonaco. 

As we shall see in Chapter 3, the innovations of Cav- 
allini provided a strong incentive, perhaps even inspira- 
tion, for the Florentine master Giotto, who must have 
studied Cavallini’s work in Rome. 


Sculpture 

Sometime during the 1250s, the sculptor Nicola d’Apulia 
arrived in Pisa from the south; he is known today as Nicola 
Pisano (active 1258-1278). He was the first of many sculp- 
tural innovators, and his unexpected classicism has some- 
times been attributed to a connection with the classicizing 
culture of the court of Emperor Frederick II, who ruled 
in Apulia. But Pisa, with its Roman history and preten- 
sions, also had a strong classical tradition, and its ancient 
monuments had been copied by Pisan artists earlier in 
the century. 

Nicola’s first known work, a marble pulpit for the Bap- 
tistery of the Cathedral of Pisa (see fig. 2.1), was signed 
with an inscription in which the artist emphasized his skill, 
in keeping with the self-laudatory inscriptions common in 
medieval Tuscany. Busketus, the architect of the Cathedral 
of Pisa, had even compared himself to Ulysses and 
Daedalus. The presence of a pulpit in a baptistery can be 
understood through the latter’s special importance in the 
Italian city-states: it was the only place to celebrate 
baptism, the sacrament that also brought a child into citi- 
zenship in the commune. The baptistery, usually a separate 
building, thus had civic as well as religious importance. 
Sermons by Archbishop Federigo Visconti, who commis- 
sioned Nicola’s pulpit, contain vivid symbolism of the 
water used in baptism as a vehicle for divine grace. 
Nicola’s hexagonal pulpit is a magnificent construction of 
white marble from the quarries at nearby Carrara (see fig. 
1.18), with columns and colonnettes of polished granite 
and variegated red marble. 

Nicola’s study of the ancient Roman Corinthian capitals 
found in abundance in Pisa gives his own versions firmness 
and precision, but their acanthus leaves resemble the more 
naturalistic ornament on French Gothic cathedrals. While 
Nicola’s arches are rounded rather than pointed in the 



DUECENTO ART IN TUSCANY AND ROME * 57 


Gothic manner, they are enriched with the scalloped deco- 
ration known as cusping developed in French cathedral 
architecture. There are five high-relief narrative panels on 
the pulpit, with further reliefs of Old Testament prophets 
on the triangular spandrels and figures in high relief stand- 
ing over the capitals. The pupils of the eyes were inset with 
stone or painted, while the backgrounds of the scenes orig- 
inally featured patterned decoration not unlike that found 
in French Gothic manuscript paintings. 

Perhaps Nicola’s patron required him to compress sepa- 
rate incidents into the same frame: the initial panel 
includes the Annunciation , Nativity , and Annunciation to 
the Shepherds (fig. 2.20). During the Annunciation the 
Angel Gabriel announces to the Virgin Mary that she will 
be the mother of the son of God. According to theologians, 
when Gabriel’s words struck her ear, the human body of 
Christ was conceived in Mary’s womb. The Annunciation 
is celebrated on March 25 and, until the Gregorian calen- 
dar was adopted in the late sixteenth century, the new year 
in Rome and Tuscany began on this date. 

In the Nativity , Mary reclines upon a mattress, while 
Joseph, at the lower left, is a silent spectator. Two shep- 
herds and their dog (now all headless) can be seen in the 
upper right. These peripheral figures act as a kind of frame 
for the enormous figure of the reclining Virgin. The style 
suggests that Nicola drew his figures on the marble slab 
and then carved inwards to free heads, arms, and trees 
from the background or from each other. No attempt was 
made to suggest distant space, and the heads all lie on the 
surface plane, no matter how much the figures may 
overlap. This also means that the forms of the relief are 


related to the surrounding frame, a feature difficult to 
observe in photographs but effective when facing the 
actual pulpit. 

The dense packing of the figures and the rendering of 
their heads can be traced to classical models, especially to 
figures on Roman sarcophagi, of which a number had 
remained in Pisa since antiquity or been brought there 
more recently. Nicola’s Virgin has been characterized as a 
Roman Juno; the straight nose, full lips, broad cheeks, low 
forehead, and wavy hair all come directly from classical 
art. Despite these specific references to antiquity and the 
figures’ classical weight and dignity, the whole is strangely 
unclassical. The drapery breaks into sharp angles, creating 
an allover network reminiscent of the Italo-Byzantine 
forms in contemporary painting. The general composi- 
tional principles in the Baptistery pulpit reliefs are not far 
from those of Coppo di Marcovaldo and Cimabue. Classi- 
cal and Gothic details seem intrusions at this stage. 

In the Adoration of the Magi (fig. 2.21), the seated Virgin 
is imitated, almost line for line, from the seated Phaedra on 
a Roman sarcophagus representing the legend of HippoT 
ytus (fig. 2.22), a borrowing that was first mentioned by 
Vasari in the sixteenth century. The three kings look like 
Roman bearded figures, but again the drapery shows the 
staccato breaks of the Italo-Byzantine style. The nude male 
figure standing over one of the capitals, who is now iden- 
tified as Daniel (fig. 2.23), was imitated from a figure on a 
Roman Hercules sarcophagus; his unusually large head is 
probably in compensation for the low viewpoint of the 
spectator. This classically inspired Daniel is the first nude 
in Italian art who might be described as heroic. 



» 

2.20. NICOLA PISANO. Annunciation, Nativity, and Annuncia- 
tion to the Shepherds. 1260. Marble, 33 V 2 x 44 V 2 " (85 x 113 cm). 
m Panel on the Pisa Baptistery pulpit (see fig. 2.1). 



2.21. NICOLA PISANO. Adoration of the Magi. 1260. Marble, 
33V2 x 44 V 2 " (85 x 113 cm), it Panel on the Pisa Baptistery pulpit 
(see fig. 2.1). 


58 • THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 


2.22. Ancient Roman sarcophagus with the Story of Phaedra and Hippolytus . 2nd century CF. Marble, length 6' (2.2 m). In Nicola’s day this 
Sif/xophagus was on the facade of Pisa Cathedral; today it is in the nearby cemetery known as the Camposanto. 



2.23. NICOLA PISANO. Daniel. 1260. Marble, height 22 
(56 cm), m Figure on the Pisa Baptistery pulpit (see fig. 2.1). 


Nicola’s interest in the classical may be the result of 
several factors. Pisans during this period thought of their 
city as a new Rome, and classical sarcophagi were reused 
for burials throughout the city. In addition, Nicola’s use of 
the classical gives his scenes a majesty and dignity not 
seen in earlier Italian reliefs; his motivation in looking to 
the antique may have been based on a desire to find 
sculptural models that offered a mood and character he 
deemed appropriate for the profundity of his Christian 
subject matter. 

Five years after he completed the Pisa pulpit, Nicola was 
called to Siena, where he executed an even more ambitious 
pulpit. Fie worked on this immense undertaking from 
1265 to 1268 with the assistance of a group of pupils that 
included his son Giovanni and three other sculptors who 
would later become well known, including Arnolfo di 
Cambio (see figs. 2.36, 2.38, 2.40). 


DUECENTO ART IN TUSCANY AND ROME * 59 



The Madonna and Child on the Siena pulpit (fig. 2.24) 
demonstrates how Nicola's style became more Gothic in 
the decade after the: completion of the Pisa Baptistery 
pulpit. When compared with a French Gothic figure of 
Christ (fig. 2.25), we see the similarity in how drapery is 
pulled up over the arm so that it can cascade down in rich, 
curvilinear Gothic folds. Note too the manner in which the 
Virgin's breasts are visible through the drapery, a device 
seen in the French Gothic statues of Reims Cathedral. 
Whether Nicola knew of these innovations through a visit 
to France or through an examination of small works such 
as ivory carvings remains unknown. 

Nicola’s son Giovanni inherited the shop after his 
father’s death, sometime between 1278 and 1287. Gio- 
vanni Pisano (c. 1250-c. 1314) designed the lower half of 
the facade of the Cathedral in Siena. The building itself 
had been begun in the early thirteenth century and the first 



2.24. NICOLA PISANO. Madonna and Child . 1260. Marble, 
height 33 V 2 " (85 cm). It figure on the Siena Cathedral pulpit. 



2.25. An example of French Gothic. Standing figure of Christ. 
c. 1220. Limestone, originally polychromed, height 8'6" (2.59 m). 
Cathedral of Notre Dame, Amiens, France. This figure is popularly 
known as the “handsome” or “beautiful God” (Beau Dieu). 

phase of the construction was completed, with the excep- 
tion of the facade, by the early 1 270s. The black-and-white 
striping of the exterior and interior emphasizes the com- 
munal content of this monument in its reference to the coat 
of arms of the Sienese commune (figs. 2.26-2.27). The facade 


60 * THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 




2.26. Interior of Siena Cathedral. This cathedral replaced two earlier 
ones, the first dating from the ninth or the tenth century and a second 
that was consecrated in 1179. The interior seen here was built during 
the first half of the thirteenth century and completed in the early 
1270s. The cathedral is built with two colors of marble: white from 
Carrara and dark green from Prato. It was lengthened by the addition 
of two bays in the choir area in the fourteenth century; the current 
length is 239'8 ,, (89.4 m). 


Below: 2.27. Siena Cathedral. The lower half of the facade, including 
statuary, is by the sculptor Giovanni Pisano and dates to 1284-99. 
Marble sculpture (originally) with other, colored stones and mosaic 
panels (largely restored). Most of the sculptures are copies; originals 
are now in the Museo delPOpera del Duomo, Siena (see fig. 2.28). 
The bell tower seen here dates from before 1215 and is the only 
surviving part of an earlier cathedral dedicated in 1179. The arches 
seen to the right were part of a Trecento expansion of the cathedral 
that was never completed; they would have formed the side aisle of 
a new nave. 




DUECENTO ART IN TUSCANY AND ROME • 6 I 



Giovanni designed turns decisively toward the Gothic in its 
decorative motifs and use of large-scale figural sculpture. 

In contrast to Nicola, Giovanni’s work is closer to the 
more expressionistic German Gothic style than to the 
courtly beauty of the Gothic as it had developed in France 
(see fig. 2.25). The statues of prophets and saints on the 
Siena facade twist and turn as if to declare their independ- 
ence from the confines of their architectural setting, even 
though it was Giovanni himself who laid out the arches, 
gables, and pinnacles that surround them. This potent 
movement is evident in Giovanni’s Mary, Sister of Moses 
(fig. 2.28). The tension of her pose — especially the neck 
projecting sharply from the torso and then twisted to one 
side — can be explained in part by a sensitivity to the spec- 
tator’s viewpoint. Giovanni brought the neck outward so 



2.28. GIOVANNI PISANO. Mary, Sister of Moses. 
1284-99. Marble, height 6'2 3 /8" (1.89 m). Removed from 
original location on the facade of the Duomo, Siena (fig. 
2.27). Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Siena. 


that when the figure was seen from below, the face would 
not be hidden by the breasts and knees. Mary’s dramatic 
pose may also be related to her original position on the 
side of the facade, around the corner from the rest of the 
figures; she leans forward as if to commune with her fellow 



2.29. GIOVANNI PISANO. Pistoia pulpit. 1298-1301. White 
Carrara marble, variegated red marble, originally with inlaid and 
painted highlights, patterned glass, height 12'9" (3.89 m). 
m Sant’ Andrea, Pistoia. The inscription on the pulpit reads: “In 
praise of the triune God I link the beginning with the end of this task 
in thirteen hundred and one. The originator and donor of the work 
is the canon Arnoldus, may he be ever blessed. Andrea, [son?] of 
Vitello, and Tino, son of Vitale, well known under such a name, are 
the best of treasurers. Giovanni carved it, who performed no empty 
work. The son of Nicola and blessed with higher skill, Pisa gave him 
birth, endowed with mastery greater than any seen before.” 


6 2 * THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 



prophets and sibyls on the front. Giovanni reduced the 
figure’s features to their essentials because fine detail 
would be lost from below and only the most powerful 
masses and movements would register on the eye. His 
boldness is now exaggerated because of the manner in 
which the porous stone he used has weathered over 
the centuries. 

The self-laudatory inscription his father placed on the 
Pisa Baptistery pulpit is exceeded by the long inscription 
that Giovanni carved on the pulpit he created between 
1298 and 1301 for Sant’ Andrea in Pistoia (fig. 2.29). Here 
the cusped arches are sharply pointed and the leaves of the 
capitals more richly three-dimensional, while the classical 
elements so important in Nicola’s art are submerged by a 
rising tide of emotionalism. The projections are stronger, 
the undercutting of heads, arms, and other projecting ele- 
ments deeper. 

A scene especially suited to Giovanni’s new style is the 
Massacre of the Innocents , showing the children under the 
age of two who were slain at the command of King Herod 
to destroy the infant he feared would usurp his power (fig. 
2.30). As Herod gives the order, the stage is filled with 
wailing mothers, screaming children, and violent, sword- 
wielding soldiers; below, mothers cradle dead babies. Even 
the prophets in the spandrels and sibyls above the capitals 
share in the agitation. The sibyls, Greek and Roman 
prophetesses who were believed to have foretold the 
coming of Christ, can be seen again and again in Italian 
art, culminating in their representation by Michelangelo 
on the Sistine Ceiling (see fig. 17.36). One figure (fig. 2.31) 



2.31. GIOVANNI PISANO. Sibyl. 1298-1301. Marble, height 
24 3 /8" (62 cm). it Figure on the Pistoia pulpit (fig. 2.29). 


2.30. GIOVANNI PISANO. Massacre 
of the Innocents. 1298-1301. Marble, 

33 x 40V8" (83 x 102 cm), it Panel on the 
Pistoia pulpit (fig. 2.29). 



• 6 3 


DUECENTO ART IN TUSCANY AND ROME 



communicates drama in the turn of her head, the twisted 
movement of the figure, and the flow and flicker of the 
drapery. Giovanni’s most unexpected figure supports the 
base of a column on the nape of his neck; his struggle is 
evident in his pose and the tortured expression on his face. 

Reflecting the melange of styles that coexisted in Due- 
cento Tuscany, the Pistoia pulpit is roughly contemporary 
with the last manifestations of the Italo-Byzantine style in 
painting. At this time, Italian Gothic sculpture and Italo- 
Byzantine painting were both characterized by an empha- 
sis on dramatic emotion in narrative scenes — an interest 
that reached its most subtle manifestation in the frescoes of 
Giotto, to be studied in the next chapter. The grand sim- 
plicity of Giovanni Pisano’s Madonna and Child at the 
Arena Chapel in Padua (fig. 2.32), her clear-cut profile, so 
different from the Romanizing profiles by Nicola, the 
broad sweep of the drapery masses enhancing the volume 
of the figure beneath, the geniality and human directness 
of the expressions — all suggest a close familiarity with the 
art of Giotto, the master whose frescoes fill the walls of the 
same chapel (see fig. 3.3). 



Architecture 

The transition from Romanesque to Gothic and the role of 
the classicizing elements so readily available in Italy can 
also be traced in architecture. One of the most remarkable 
early Romanesque buildings in Tuscany is the Florentine 
Baptistery (fig. 2.33; see fig. 2.39). By the fifteenth century 
the Florentines were convinced that this structure must 
have originally been constructed during the ancient Roman 
period as a temple to Mars, but current opinion dates it to 
the eleventh century. The pedimented windows of the 
upper story show the influence of the antique, as do the 
ribbed and Corinthian-style pilasters. The round arches 
that decorate the upper story are reminiscent of Roman 
architecture, but in antiquity such arcades were never 
supported on columns, as they are here. One of the first 
truly Renaissance structures, Brunelleschi’s facade of the 
Ospedale degli Innocenti (see fig. 6.13), uses just such an 
arcade; his appropriation of this motif from the Baptistery 
may have been inspired by the Florentine belief that this 
venerable and impressive civic and religious structure had 
been constructed in the ancient Roman period. 

By the thirteenth century, most new buildings in Flo- 
rence were being constructed in an Italian version of the 
Gothic. Two impressive Gothic churches, Santa Maria 
Novella and Santa Croce (see figs. 2.34, 2.37), were com- 
missioned respectively by the Dominicans and Franciscans, 
new mendicant orders founded in the thirteenth century 
that required large open spaces to hold the standing 
crowds who gathered to hear the preachers for which these 
orders became famous (church pews were a later develop- 
ment). When the crowds overflowed the enormous 
churches, portable pulpits were mounted near the facades 
and the preachers spoke to crowds gathered in their 
large piazzas. 

The complexes erected throughout Italy by the Domini- 
cans and Franciscans during the thirteenth, fourteenth, and 
fifteenth centuries had to be located on the edge of the city 
proper because of their huge scale, as the plans demon- 
strate (see figs. 2.35, 2.37). In addition to the church with 
its family chapels, these monastic centers had to include all 
the facilities needed for the numerous resident priests and 
nuns, including refectories (for dining) and two-story clois- 
ters with monk’s cells on the upper level (see fig. 9.6). 


2.32. GIOVANNI PISANO. Madonna and Child, c. 1305-6. 
Marble, height 5 Q 3 M" (129 cm). Arena Chapel, Padua. Commis- 
sioned by Enrico Scrovegni, who also commissioned the chapel’s 
frescoes from Giotto (see figs. 3.3-3.17). 


6 4 * THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 



2.33. Florence, Baptistery. Romanesque (?). The building is usually dated to the eleventh century, but some argue that it was built as early as the 
sixth or seventh century. A consecration was held in 1059, supporting the eleventh-century date. The lantern dates from 1150 and the angled, 
striped corner pilasters were added in the thirteenth century. The materials are white Carrara marble and dark green marble from Prato. This 
historic view shows the building before the fifteenth-century bronze doors by Lorenzo Ghiberti, known as the Gates of Paradise (see figs. 10.1, 
10.13-10.15), were removed in the late twentieth century for display in the nearby Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. During the Gothic period there 
was a sculptural group over the doorway, which was replaced in the sixteenth century with a marble group; in this photograph that group has 
been removed for restoration. 


DUECENTO ART IN TUSCANY AND ROME * 6 5 





2.34. Nave and choir, Sta. Maria Novella, Florence. An earlier 
Dominican church was founded here in 1221. This structure was 
begun in 1246, constructed between 1246 and the mid-1300s, and 
consecrated in 1420. The material is pietra forte (local limestone). 
For the later, Renaissance facade of the church, see fig. 10.6. For the 
location of some of the many works of art found here, see fig. 2.35. 


Santa Maria Novella (figs. 2.34-2.35) exemplifies the 
simplicity of plan, organization, and detail that character- 
izes Italian Gothic architecture. The plan is derived from 
those developed for churches of the Cistercian Order in 
France, in which a flat east end was substituted for the 
more common rounded or polygonal apse. The relatively 
high side aisles at Santa Maria Novella, leaving little room 
for a clerestory above the nave and none for a triforium, 
are typically Italian. So is the contrast between the stone 
supports and arches and the plaster that covers walls and 
vaulting. The pointed arches are striped in stone like the 
arches of the tombs that line the lower, Gothic part of the 
facade (see fig. 10.6). The arches and vault ribs are flat (in 
French Gothic they are usually rounded), the colonettes 
found on the side walls of French Gothic churches are 
absent, and the piers that support the nave, which in 
France are delineated by clusters of colonettes, are as 
simple as those found in French Romanesque structures. 
There is, moreover, no formal separation between the nave 

2.35. Plan of Sta. Maria Novella, Florence. 

1. Original location for Duccio’s Madonna 
and Child (see fig. 4.1). 

2. Coronation of the Virgin , rose window by 
Andrea da Firenze (see fig. 5.9). 

3. Strozzi Chapel with frescoes painted by 
Nardo di Cione, stained glass designed by 
the same artist, and altarpiece by Andrea 
Orcagna (see figs. 5.2-5. 3). 

4. Chapter House (Spanish Chapel), with 
frescoes by Andrea da Firenze (see figs. 5.1, 



5.8). 

5. Trinity, Masaccio (see fig. 8.21). 

6. Original location of Sandro Botticelli, 
Adoration of the Magi ( see fig. 13.18). 

7. Second Strozzi Chapel, with frescoes by 
Filippino Lippi and stained glass designed 
by the same artist (see figs. 13.33-13.34). 

8. Tornabuoni Chapel (Capella Maggiore), 
with frescoes and altarpiece (now removed) 
by Domenico Ghirlandaio and stained glass 
designed by the same artist (see figs. 
13.38-13.39). 

9. Chiostro Verde (Green Cloister), with 
frescoes by Paolo Uccello and others (see 
fig. 11.4). 

10. Large cloister. 

The Crucifix painted by Giotto (see fig. 3.2) 
was probably painted for Sta. Maria 
Novella, but its original location in the 
church is unknown. 


66 * THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 



arcade and the wall above, which is pierced by simple oculi 
instead of the usual pointed Gothic windows. As a result, 
nothing interrupts the membrane of the wall, which creates 
not just an effect of unity, but even a feeling of calm 
repose. This is in striking contrast to the energetic pictorial 
art and rich sculpture that we have been discussing. 

However different the architectural forms of Santa 
Maria Novella may be from the later, classically derived 
elements of the Renaissance, the harmony of its lines and 
spaces renders it a fitting precursor of such Quattrocento 
churches as Florence’s San Lorenzo and Santo Spirito (see 
figs. 6.17-6.18). At a moment when French architects were 
trying to dissolve the wall entirely in order to convert 
churches into elaborate stone cages to embrace surfaces of 
colored glass, the builders of Santa Maria Novella pro- 
claimed the quintessentially Italian supremacy of the wall. 

So did the architect of Santa Croce (figs. 2.36-2.37), the 
Franciscan church on the opposite side of the city, but in a 
very different way. In all probability this master was 



2.37. Plan of Sta. Croce, Florence. 

1. Bardi Chapel, with frescoes by Giotto 
(see figs. 3.19-3.23). 

2. Baroncelli Chapel, with frescoes by Taddeo 
Gaddi (see figs. 3.29, 3.30). 

3. Bardi-Bardi di Vernio Chapel with frescoes 
by Maso di Banco (see fig. 3.27). 

4. Alberti Chapel, with frescoes by Agnolo 
Gaddi (see figs. 3.19, 5.11). 

5. Annunciation by Donatello (see fig. 

10 . 21 ). 

6. Tomb of Lionardo Bruni, by Bernardo 
Rossellino (see fig. 10.27). 

7. Tomb of Carlo Marsuppini, by Desiderio 
da Settignano (see figs. 12.10, 12.11). 

8. Tomb of Michelangelo, designed by 
Giorgio Vasari. 

9. Tomb of the nineteenth-century Italian 
composer Giacomo Rossini, by G. Cassioli 
(1900). 

10. Pulpit by Benedetto da Maiano. 

11. Sacristy. 

12. First cloister. 

13. Refectory, with Last Supper and other 
subjects, frescoes by Taddeo Gaddi (see fig. 
3.31). 

14. Pazzi Chapel (Chapter House) by Filippo 
Brunelleschi (see figs. 6.1, 6.21). 

15. Second cloister. 

(Third cloister is not shown on plan.) 


2.36. ARNOLFO DI CAMBIO (attributed to). Nave and choir, 

Sta. Croce, Florence. Begun 1294, with work continuing well into the 
Trecento. Pietra forte (local limestone). For the location of some of 
the many works of art found here, see fig. 2.37. 



DUECENTO ART IN TUSCANY AND ROME * 6j 



Arnolfo di Cambio, who was also important as a sculptor, 
a pupil and co-worker of Nicola Pisano, and the first archi- 
tect of the new Cathedral of Florence (see figs. 2.38-2.39). 
The plan combines a timber-roofed nave with a vaulted 
polygonal apse separated from the nave by a triumphal 
arch somewhat like those of the Early Christian basilicas in 
Rome but with pointed arches and windows. Octagonal 
columns replace the compound piers used in Santa Maria 
Novella, which are needless here since there is no vaulting. 
A catwalk carried on corbels separates the small clerestory 
from the nave arcade, and carries the eye down the nave 
and up over the crossing to the triumphal arch. 

Santa Croce’s loftiness and the openness of its arches 
make it seem almost endless. From the start, the wall sur- 
faces were intended for painting, as were the windows for 
stained glass. In fact, the nave was still being built when 


Giotto and his followers were at work painting frescoes 
on the walls of some of the transept chapels (see figs. 
3.19-3.23). The Trecento painted decoration of the ceiling 
beams — still largely intact — is an essential aspect of the 
splendor of Santa Croce. 

Florence’s cathedral or Duomo ( duomo , derived from 
the Latin word domus , “house,” is the Italian word for 
cathedral) (figs. 2.38-2.39; see also fig. 1.8) was begun in 
1296 under the direction of Arnolfo di Cambio to replace 
the earlier church of Santa Reparata, but work came prac- 
tically to a standstill after Arnolfo’s death in 1302. Atten- 
tion turned to the Campanile, which was built in stages by 
three different architects: Giotto, Andrea Pisano, and, in 
the 1350s, Francesco Talenti. The cathedral itself was the 
subject of complex group activity. In 1355 a commission 
was appointed; its personnel were to change, but it included 



2.38. Nave and choir, Florence 
Cathedral. Begun by Arnolfo di 
Cambio, 1296. Present nave by 
Francesco Talenti and others (after 
1364). Dome engineered by Filippo 
Brunelleschi (see fig. 6.11). For views 
of the exterior, see figs. 1.8, 6. 7-6.9. 


68 • THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 




2.39. Plan of cathedral complex, 
Florence. 

The shaded plan represents the earlier 
church of Sta. Reparata. 

A. Baptistery (see figs. 2.9, 2.33). 

B. Campanile (see fig. 3.25), original 
location of reliefs by Andrea Pisano (see 
figs. 1.11, 3.32) and others, and figures 
by Donatello (see fig. 7.17) and others. 

C. Duomo (see figs. 1 . 8 , 6 . 7-6.9). 

1. Portal with bronze doors by Andrea 
Pisano (see figs. 3.33-3.34). 

2. Portal with first set of bronze doors 
by Lorenzo Ghiberti (see figs. 7.4-7.6). 

3. Original location for second set of 
bronze doors ( Gates of Paradise) by 
Lorenzo Ghiberti (see figs. 2.33, 10 . 1 , 
10.13-10.15), now in the Museo 
dell’Opera del Duomo. 


4. Porta della Mandorla with relief by 
Nanni di Banco (see fig. 7.16). 

5. Sir John Hawkwood , by Paolo Uccello 
(see fig. 11.3). 

6 . Niccold da Tolentino , by Andrea del 
Castagno (see fig. 11.18). 

7. Sacristy portal with enameled terra- 
cotta relief and bronze doors by Luca 
della Robbia (see fig. 10.18). Luca della 
Robbia’s Cantoria (see figs. 10.16-10.17) 
was located above this door. 

8 . Portal over which Donatello’s 
Cantoria was originally placed (see fig. 
10.19). 

9. Sacristy with intarsia decoration by 
Antonio Manetti and others (see fig. 
12.16). 


the painters Taddeo Gaddi, Orcagna, and Andrea da Firenze, 
as well as sculptors and prominent citizens. Model after 
model for the church was submitted to the commission and 
accepted or rejected; somehow the work went on, although 
rejected ideas were often resubmitted. One of these may be 
the design recorded in Andrea da Firenze’s fresco of the 
Triumph of the Church (see fig. 5.1). 

It is not completely clear how much, if any, of Arnolfo’s 
original design was kept and how much of the present 
Duomo can be attributed to the documented activity there 
of Francesco Talenti, Fra Jacopo Talenti (no relation), 
Simone Talenti (Francesco’s son), and the painters. In 
1364, the commission adopted Francesco Talenti’s pro- 
posals for the piers and cornice, which were embodied in 
a model constructed in 1367 on the designs of Neri di 
Fioravante. At that time, the commission ordered the 
destruction of competing designs and models and absolute 
adherence to the official project. The final design was a 
striking compromise between a central plan and a Latin 
cross. Three polygonal apses, each with five radiating 
chapels, were to surround an octagonal dome, under 
which the high altar was to be placed. On the outside, 
these tribunes were to culminate in semidomes intended to 
buttress the central dome, but at the time no one knew 
how a dome of this scale could be engineered and con- 
structed. It has been argued that this later Trecento design 
follows Arnolfo di Cambio’s basic plan, but on a much 
larger scale. 


The interior of the cathedral consists of a majestic nave 
of four enormous square bays, its lofty arches opening 
onto side aisles half the width of the nave. The nave leads 
to the centralized space below the great octagonal dome. 
The building was planned so that vast crowds could be 
accommodated for ceremonies at the high altar and the 
fifteen surrounding chapels. The warm brown stone of the 
piers, capitals, and other details enhances the interior’s 
imposing simplicity. The Florentine Duomo was not con- 
secrated until 1436, when the dome, apparently first envi- 
sioned by Arnolfo di Cambio, was near completion under 
Filippo Brunelleschi (see figs. 6.7-6.12). In the Italian city- 




DUECENTO ART IN TUSCANY AND ROME • 69 



states the building that housed the government competed 
in physical bulk and artistic magnificence with the princi- 
pal churches. Florence was no exception. 

Also attributed to Arnolfo is the Palazzo dei Priori (fig. 
2.40; the Priori, or Priors, were the principal governing 
body of Florence). Its tower dominates a whole section of 
Florence and in popular imagination is grouped with the 
dome of the cathedral as one of the two quintessential 
symbols of the city. The palazzo is the largest and also one 
of the last of the Italian medieval communal palaces to be 
built. Its front part was erected in only eleven years — an 
astonishingly short space of time for a building of this 
scale; later additions to the back did not change the facade. 
The building fronts a piazza produced by the destruction, 


in 1258, of the houses of the traitorous Uberti family, who 
fled Florence and later fought with the Sienese at the Battle 
of Montaperti. Their property was confiscated and the 
Priori declared that no buildings would ever stand there, 
thus providing for a large open space that set off the new 
communal palace. Built of pietra forte , a tan-colored local 
stone, the Palazzo dei Priori appears as a gigantic block, 
divided by stringcourses (narrow horizontal moldings) into 
a ground floor and two main stories, each of great height, 
and crowned by powerfully projecting machicolations 
carried on corbels and culminating in a crenellated 
parapet. The great tower is placed off-center, perhaps to 
make use of the foundations of earlier house-towers. It 
thrusts aggressively forward, out over the corbelled arcade, 



2.40. ARNOLFO DI CAMBIO 
(attributed to). Palazzo dei Priori (now 
known as Palazzo Vecchio), Florence, on 
the left. 1299-1310; interior remodeled 
1540-65 by the Medici as a family 
residence. Pietra forte (local limestone). 
On the right is the Loggia della Signoria 
(now called Loggia dei Lanzi), which is 
shown in a closer view in fig. 2.41. To 
the left is the Fountain of Neptune (see 
figs. 20.24-20.25). 

A Florentine citizen entering the Piazza 
della Signoria from the main street that 
connects the religious center of Florence, 
Piazza del Duomo, with this civic center, 
would have experienced the massive 
Palazzo dei Priori from a similarly 
dramatic angle. Documents suggest that 
when Brunelleschi set out to 
demonstrate perspective (see p. 162), he 
used a similar viewpoint, on street level. 
The Medici were expelled from Florence 
in 1494, and Donatello’s sculpture of 
Judith and Holofemes (see fig. 12.7) 
was moved to the platform in front of 
the Palazzo dei Priori, where it was 
joined in 1504 by Michelangelo’s David 
(see fig. 16.1; the figure seen in the 
illustration is a copy). The Medici 
returned to the city in 1512, and in 1540 
made the former city hall their personal 
residence. In the later sixteenth century 
the palace was decorated to accommod- 
ate its new function as the family palace 
(see figs. 20.35-20.36, 20.43-20.44). 


70 * THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 




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-.41. Loggia della Signoria. Built 1376-c. 1381 under the supervision of Benci di Cione and Simone Talenti. Pietra forte, with the virtues above 
executed in marble with colored and gold glass backgrounds. When the sixteenth-century Medici transformed this speakers’ platform into a guard 
station, the name was changed to Loggia dei Lanzi (Loggia of the Lances), by which the loggia is known today. At that time it also became a place 
lor the presentation of sculpture, some of it in support of the Medici regime. Underneath the left arch of the loggia: lOt Perseus and Medusa, by 
Benvenuto Cellini (see fig. 20.22); under the right arch: uii Capture of the Sabine Woman, by Giovanni Bologna (see figs. 20.29-20.30); to the left 
its a copy of Michelangelo’s David (see fig. 16.1), placed on the statue’s original site in front of the Palazzo dei Priori. 


and terminates in more corbelled machicolations, another 
crenellated parapet, and a baldacchino - like bell enclosure 
supported on four huge columns. 

The roughness of the blocks, which are rusticated as in 
Roman military architecture, accentuates the brutal power 
of the massive building. It seems even more impregnable by 
virtue of the delicacy of the mullioned windows with their 
trefoil arches, in imitation of French Gothic models. Its 
simplicity and force, its triumphant assertion of the noble 
Human capacity to govern, were intended to symbolize the 
victory of civic harmony over the internal strife that tore 
the republic apart in the late Duecento. 

Our final example of early Florentine architecture is 
the Loggia della Signoria (fig. 2.41). It was built much 
pater, 1376-c. 1381, as a speakers’ platform, ostensibly to 


protect the city’s republican representatives when they 
were speaking to the citizenry gathered in the Piazza della 
Signoria, the city’s largest open public space. In the 
sixteenth century the Medici would take this symbol of 
Florentine republicanism and transform it into a guard 
station, making it clear that republican notions would not 
be tolerated in the Medici grand duchy. When built, the 
loggia’s grand rounded arches would have expressed the 
power of the city’s governing bodies; that the popular 
Gothic style was avoided in this civic structure may be a 
reference to the ancient Roman origins of the city. The 
numerous small lions at the bases of the piers were 
symbols of the republic, and the virtues represented in the 
spandrels expressed the kind of behavior expected of the 
city’s elected officials. 


DUECENTO ART IN TUSCANY AND ROME • 71 





Hn 0£:fA 



3 

FLORENTINE ART OF 
THE EARLY TRECENTO 


I n the early Trecento, a new style of painting 
emerged that revolutionized the art of Florence, 
Tuscany, and eventually that of the entire Western 
world. The man who initiated this new style is 
Giotto di Bondone (c. 1277-1337). 

Giotto 

The importance of Giotto was not lost on his contempo- 
raries. The Chronicle of Giovanni Villani, written a few 
years after Giotto’s death, rated him among the great 
personalities of the day. The writer Giovanni Boccaccio 
claimed that Giotto had “brought back to light” the art of 
painting “that for many centuries had been buried under 
the errors of some who painted more to delight the eyes 
of the ignorant than to please the intellect of the wise” 
i Decameron , VI, 5). Later, in his treatise On Poetry , 
Boccaccio compared Giotto to the ancient Greek painter 
Apelles, about whose works he had read in the writings 
of Pliny. 

In a passage from the Divine Comedy (XI, 94-96), 
Dante tells of an encounter in purgatory with the minia- 
turist Oderisi da Gubbio, who compares his fall from 
popularity with that of Cimabue as an example of the tran- 
sience of worldly fame. Dante writes that it was Giotto 
who stole Cima hue’s fame: “O empty glory of human 
powers! ... Cimabue thought to hold the field in painting, 
and now Giotto has the cry, so that the former’s fame is 
dim.” Dante compared Giotto’s success to that of the poet 
Guido Cavalcanti, inventor of the dolce stil nuovo (sweet 
or beautiful new style), whose poetry, written in the Tuscan 

Opposite: 3.1. GIOTTO. Fresco. Arena Chapel, Padua. This fresco 
appears over the entrance door. 


dialect rather than the customary Latin, chased his com- 
petitors from the field. 

Dante’s statement about the change in taste from 
Cimabue to Giotto is true. Soon after Giotto established 
his style in Florence, the Byzantinizing manner of Cimabue 
was no longer practiced. Florentine painters began to 
imitate Giotto’s style, which also spread to other centers in 
Tuscany, including Siena, and then up and down the Adri- 
atic coast, capturing one provincial school after another. It 
met resistance only in Venice, which was strongly tied to 
the Greek East, and in Piedmont and Lombardy, where the 
Northern Gothic style was a potent influence. Giotto’s new 
direction remained dominant into the Quattrocento, when 
Renaissance artists and writers insisted that Giotto was 
their true artistic ancestor. At few other moments in the 
history of painting has a single artist’s work led to so rapid, 
widespread, and complete a change. 

What was this new style? Cennino Cennini, who 
claimed to have been the pupil of Agnolo Gaddi (himself 
the son and pupil of Taddeo Gaddi, one of Giotto’s closest 
followers), declared that Giotto had translated painting 
from Greek (by which he meant Byzantine) into Latin. In 
the sixteenth century, Vasari wrote that Giotto had aban- 
doned the “rude manner” of the Greeks and, since he con- 
tinued to “derive from Nature, he deserves to be called the 
pupil of Nature and no other.” In exalting Giotto, Vasari 
ignored the fact that Cimabue and the Sienese painter 
Duccio (see Chapter 4) had already transformed the 
Byzantine style. To Trecento commentators, naturalism 
was equated with Latinity, which meant ancient Roman 
culture. For his contemporaries and successors the virtue 
of Giotto’s style seems to have been based in its fidelity to 
the human, natural, Italian world they knew, as against the 
artificial manner from the Byzantine East. Although 
Cennini never wrote that Giotto drew from posed models, 


FLORENTINE ART OF THE EARLY TRECENTO • 73 



3.2. GIOTTO. Crucifix, c. 1295. Panel, 19' x 13 '4" (5.8 x 4 m). 

Sta. Maria Novella, Florence. In 1568 Vasari wrote that Giotto 
“became so good an imitator of nature that he banished completely 
the rude Greek [i.e., Byzantine] manner and revived the modern 
and good art of painting, introducing the portraying well from 
nature of living people, which had not been used for more than two 
hundred years.” 

Villani suggested this when he referred to Giotto as “he 
who drew every figure and action from nature.” 

The surviving work of Italy’s early Trecento painters 
represents only a fraction of what they must actually have 
painted. As we read Vasari’s accounts of Giotto’s output — 
remembering that some of the paintings he mentions may 
have been by other artists — we realize how little now 
remains of what Giotto produced during the course of his 
life. He reportedly worked throughout Tuscany, northern 
Italy, and the Kingdom of Naples, including its capital, 
then ruled by a French dynasty. Giotto was said to have 
traveled to France to work in Avignon, the new seat of the 
papacy after 1305, a possibility that is supported by the 
French contacts evident in his style. Commercial relations 
between Florence and all parts of Europe were so routine 
during the Trecento that we cannot deny the possibility of 


a trip to France for so prosperous and acclaimed an 
artist as Giotto. 

Whether or not he studied with Cimabue in Florence, as 
Vasari claimed, the older painter played little part in the 
formation of Giotto’s style. The dominant influences seem 
to have been several: ancient Roman sculpture, the sculp- 
ture of the Pisano family, the paintings of Pietro Cavallini, 
French sculpture seen either in France or through small, 
imported works, and — perhaps most importantly — nature. 

During most of the Duecento, Florence and its territory 
had been the scene of warfare between the Guelphs, who 
favored the pope, and the Ghibellines, who were loosely 
attached to the Holy Roman Emperor. In reality, this was 
a class conflict; the Ghibellines were the feudal nobility, 
and they and their supporters looked to the emperor to 
maintain their traditional power. The Florentine Guelphs 
were mostly artisans and merchants who had succeeded in 
establishing guilds by the Ordinances of Justice in 1293; 
these regulations disenfranchised nobles unless they were 
willing to adopt a trade and join a guild. An attempt by the 
nobles to regain power was put down in 1302, and hun- 
dreds of Ghibellines, including Dante, were exiled. The art 
of Giotto emerged within the context of the prosperous 
commercial and artisan class, emphasizing measure, 
balance, order, and the drama that develops between 
human beings who live and work at close quarters. 

A comparison of a restored Crucifix now widely 
accepted as one of Giotto’s earliest works (fig. 3.2) with 
Cimabue’s Crucifix at Santa Croce (see figs. 2.11-2.12) is 
instructive. The basic design of the two works is the same, 
with the body of Christ isolated against the decorated, tra- 
ditional frame, and half-length figures of the Virgin and 
John the Evangelist in the side terminals. But Giotto has 
replaced the abstracted Byzantine segmentation of bodies, 
heads, and hands with three-dimensional forms modeled in 
light. While the flowing, two-dimensional pattern of 
Cimabue’s Christ is locked into a composition of horizon- 
tals, verticals, and decorative patterns, the body of Giotto’s 
Christ is profoundly three-dimensional and seems to be 
hanging in space in front of the cross. Christ’s head falls 
forward, while his lower body seems to fall back against 
the cross. His mouth falls open, exposing his lower teeth, 
his hair falls naturally to the side of his face, and the nails 
force his hands to cup the surrounding space. The physi- 
cality of Giotto’s very human Christ — truly a Christus 
mortuus — draws an empathetic response from the viewer. 

THE ARENA CHAPEL. During this period Padua, a 
university city not far from Venice, regained its republican 
independence. In 1300 a wealthy Paduan merchant, Enrico 
Scrovegni, notorious for loaning money at exorbitant rates 
of interest, acquired the ruins of an ancient Roman arena 


74 * THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 



on which a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Annunciate was 
located. Three years after acquiring the site for his palace, 
Scrovegni began building a new chapel, probably in the 
hope of atoning for the usury he and his father had com- 
mitted. In 1305 the chapel was consecrated, and copies of 
the chapel’s frescoes are found in a manuscript dated to 
1306. From the start, apparently, Scrovegni thought of 
commissioning Giotto, who, according to one account, 
was satis iuvenis (“fairly young”), to paint the interior. In 
the past Giotto was often given complete credit for plan- 
ning the cycle, but it is likely that theological advisers and 
perhaps also the patron played an important role in the 
development of this complex intellectual program. Although 
he undoubtedly had assistants working with him, Giotto 
certainly painted the principal figures of each scene. 


The Arena Chapel frescoes represent Giotto’s greatest 
achievement (figs. 3.1, 3. 3-3. 5). Their state of preservation 
is astonishing, especially given that an Allied bomb nar- 
rowly missed the chapel during World War II. Since the 
chapel was attached to the palace on the north side, there 
are windows on the south only. These were kept small to 
provide as much wall space as possible for the frescoes, 
which are designed in three superimposed rows. To sepa- 
rate each scene, Giotto designed frames that form a con- 
tinuous structure of simulated architecture. The vault is 
painted the same unifying blue as the background color in 
the frescoes — naturally enough, since vaults and domes 
were traditionally held to be symbolic of heaven, and doc- 
uments show that an interior vault was often referred to as 
il cielo (“the sky”). The chapel’s vault is dotted with gold 



3.3. GIOTTO. Fresco cycle. Arena Chapel, Padua, c. 1302-1305. Commissioned by Enrico Scrovegni. 


FLORENTINE ART OF THE EARLY TRECENTO * J 5 



stars, while figures of Christ, the Virgin, the four Evange- 
lists, and four prophets appear in circular frames that seem 
to pierce the sky to reveal the golden glory of heaven 
beyond (see fig. 3.1). 

The chapel is dedicated to the Virgin of Charity. The 
bands of paintings illustrate the lives of the Virgin and 
Christ in thirty-eight framed scenes (figs. 3.4-3.5). The 
episodes chosen emphasize the role of the Virgin in Christ’s 
life as related in the Golden Legend by the thirteenth- 
century Genoese bishop Jacobus de Voragine. Narration 
begins on the upper level, to the right of the entrance to the 
sanctuary, with the events of the lives of Joachim and 
Anna, Mary’s parents. The early life of the Virgin is repre- 
sented on the left top register and continues with the 


Annunciation , with Gabriel and Mary on either side of the 
chancel arch; above we see the unusual scene of God the 
Father sending Gabriel on his mission to Mary. On the 
second level, the infancy of Christ begins on the right-hand 
wall and culminates in his adult mission, on the left. On 
the lowest tier, the earlier scenes of the Passion of Christ on 
the right are followed on the left by his Crucifixion and 
subsequent events. The level below is treated like wain- 
scoting, with panels painted in imitation of marble alter- 
nating with images of the Seven Virtues (on the right) and 
the Seven Vices (on the left), painted in grisaille as if they 
were stone sculptures. This drama of human salvation 
comes to a climax in the Last Judgment , which covers the 
entrance wall (see fig. 3.1). 



3.4. Iconographic diagram of Giotto’s fresco cycle at the Arena Chapel, Padua. Computerized reconstruction by Sarah Loyd Cameron, after 
Flores d’Arcais. 

LIVES OF JOACHIM AND ANNA: 1 .Joachim Expelled from the Temple ; 2. Joachim Takes Refuge in the Wilderness (see fig. 3.6); 

3. Annunciation to Anna ; 4. Sacrifice of Joachim; 5. Dream of Joachim; 6. Meeting at the Golden Gate (see fig. 3.7). 

EARLY LIFE OF THE VIRGIN MARY: 7. Birth of the Virgin; 8. Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple; 9. Suitors Presenting the Rods (see 
fig. 3.5); 10. Prayer Before the Rods (see fig. 3.5); 11. Marriage of Mary and Joseph; 12. Wedding Procession; 13. God's Mission to Gabriel; 

14A. & 14B. Annunciation (see figs. 3. 8-3.9); 15. Visitation. 

LIFE OF CHRIST: 16. Nativity and Annunciation to the Shepherds (see fig. 3.10); 17. Adoration of the Magi; 18. Presentation of Christ in 
the Temple; 19. Flight into Egypt; 20. Massacre of the Innocents; 21. Christ Disputing with the Doctors in the Temple; 22. Baptism of Christ, 

23. Marriage Feast at Cana (see fig. 3.5); 24. Raising of Lazarus (see fig. 3.11); 25. Entry into Jerusalem; 26. Christ Driving the Money 
Changers from the Temple; 27. Judas Receiving the Blood Money from the High Priests of the Temple; 28. Last Supper, 29. Washing of the Feet; 
30. Kiss of Judas (see fig. 3.12); 3 1 . Jesus before Caiaphas; 32. Crowning with Thoms; 33. Christ Carrying the Cross; 34. Crucifixion; 

35. Lamentation (see fig. 3.13); 36. Noli Me Tangere (see fig. 3.5); 37. Ascension of Christ, 38. Pentecost. 

SEVEN VICES: A. Despair, B. Envy; C. Infidelity (see fig. 3.5); D. Injustice (see fig. 3.16); E. Anger (see fig. 3.5); F. Inconstancy (see fig. 3.17); 
G. Folly . 

SEVEN VIRTUES: H. Prudence; I. Fortitude; J. Temperance; K. Justice (see fig. 3.15); L. Faith; M. Charity; N. Hope. 

ENTRANCE WALL: Last Judgment, with Enrico Scrovegni Offering the Model of the Chapel to the Virgin Mary (see figs. 3.1, 3.14). 


Opposite: 3.5. GIOTTO. Arena Chapel, Padua. Portion of the left (north) wall. Frescoes in the top register: Suitors Presenting the Rods and the 
Prayer Before the Rods; middle register: Marriage Feast at Cana and Raising of Lazarus; lower register: Lamentation and Noli Me Tangere; 
bottom: figures of the vices of Infidelity, Injustice, and Anger. 


76 • 


THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 



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Giotto’s narration has been compared to that of the 
cinema because of his sense of timing as scene follows 
scene. Most observers entering the chapel probably do not 
immediately recognize the element of time, but they are 
aware that they have stepped into a world of order and 
balance. Clear light, simply defined masses, and beautiful 
glowing color characterize Giotto’s style. In the nineteenth 
century, the critic John Ruskin described this color as “the 
April freshness of Giotto.” 

Italian documents contain no word for “scene;” the 
word used is storie (“stories”). In Giotto’s frescoed cycle, 
we can follow the plot in each storia , usually accompanied 
by one or two subplots, as we move through the series. 
In an incident from the life of the Virgin, for example 
(fig. 3.6), the aged Joachim has been expelled from the 
temple because he and his wife are childless, and he is 
taking refuge with shepherds in the wilderness. The 
composition is based on the human relationships among 
the figures. Humiliation overcomes Joachim, and the 
youthful shepherds accept him reluctantly; one looks 
toward the other, attempting to gauge his friend’s response 


and judge whether it is safe to take in this outcast. The 
landscape frames and accentuates this tense moment. Then 
comes the subplot: the sheep pour out of their fold, and the 
dog, symbol of fidelity, leaps upward in recognition of the 
role Joachim will play in sacred history. 

The landscape is powerfully projected but deliberately 
restricted in scope. Writing in the late Trecento, Cennini 
suggested that in order to paint a landscape, it is necessary 
only for the artist to set up some rocks in the bottega to 
stand for mountains and a few branches for a forest. Yet 
Giotto’s rocky backgrounds form an effective stage setting 
for his dramas, and in later scenes that take place in the 
same spot he did not hesitate to rearrange the rocks to 
bring out the meaning of the moment. The rocks enclose a 
distinct space that is ultimately limited, as in all the scenes, 
by the continuous blue background. There are no clouds 
and no suggestion of other atmospheric phenomena, 
except where they are needed to indicate the celestial origin 
of the angels. He often, however, suggested a slightly 
broader or more distant space: trees are shown cut off by 
rocks, so that we read them as growing on the other side 



78 


THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 


of the hill, for example, and his figures sometimes appear 
or disappear behind the frame at the sides of scenes. 
Within the shallow box of space defined by the rocks, the 
figures stand forth in three dimensions like columns. 
Giotto’s drapery is simplified to bring out the cylindrical 
mass of the figures, whose profile, one-quarter, and even 
back views replace the customary three-quarter profile of 
figures found in Duecento painting. The head of the shep- 
herd to the right in Joachim Takes Refuge in the Wilder- 
ness is foreshortened in space. According to Vasari, Giotto 
was the first artist to render forms in foreshortening. 

Cennini’s recommendation that distant objects should 
be painted darker than those in the foreground must have 
been another convention derived from Giotto: the fore- 
most leaves on Giotto’s trees are lighter than those farther 
away. In subtle gradations, Giotto’s light models faces, 


drapery, rocks, and trees with a delicacy that establishes 
their existence in space. However, Giotto’s light is not 
derived from a single source. A uniform illumination 
bathes all scenes alike, regardless of the time of day, and 
this helps maintain the unity of the chapel. As a whole, 
Giotto’s light, having no specific origin, casts no shadows. 
With few exceptions, cast shadows do not appear in paint- 
ing until the Quattrocento, yet we can hardly imagine that 
Trecento painters were unaware of them. In a famous 
passage in the Inferno, one of the damned asks who Dante 
is, since he — unlike the dead — casts a shadow. This is only 
one example from a rich medieval tradition of literature on 
light and its behavior, but for some reason painters did not 
consider natural light effects suitable for representation. 

The final scene of this first group is the Meeting at the 
Golden Gate (fig. 3.7). Joachim has received a revelation 



FLORENTINE ART OF THE EARLY TRECENTO ♦ 79 





3.8, 3.9. GIOTTO. Annunciation. Fresco, each 6' 4 3 A" x 4'H" (1.95 x 1.5 m). Arena Chapel, Padua. See also fig. 3.3. 


from an angel that his wife, Anna, will bear a child, and 
he returns to Jerusalem to tell her, just as she rushes out to 
break her identical news to him. Their encounter occurs 
on a bridge outside the Golden Gate of Jerusalem. Like the 
rocks in Giotto’s landscapes, a few simple architectural 
elements symbolize a complex reality. Trecento convention 
explains the disparity in scale between Giotto’s figures 
and the painted architecture. Architecture is large in 
relation to people, and to apply the same scale to both 
would mean reducing the figures to a point where the 
narrative would become too small to be read or limiting 
the architecture to the lower portions of buildings. Giotto 
and his followers were content with rendering a double 
scale that presented the story within a reduced architec- 
tural setting. 

In this case, the architecture focuses attention on the 
emotions of the figures. In this joyous reunion of a 
husband and wife sharing precious news, Anna puts one 
hand around Joachim’s head, drawing his face toward hers 
for a long embrace. As always, Giotto’s draftsmanship is 
broad and simple, leaving out details that might interrupt 
his message of human feeling or the powerful clarity of 
his form. One subplot can be sensed in the happy neigh- 
bors; another appears in the shepherd who carries 
Joachim’s belongings. 


Turning to the events directly connected with the life of 
Christ, we find the Annunciation (figs. 3. 8-3. 9) on the 
chancel arch. Its position reflects a tradition in Byzantine 
art in which the chancel arch symbolized the entrance to 
the sanctuary of the temple, which is described with its 
gate shut by the prophet Ezekiel: “And no man shall 
enter in by it; because the Lord, the God of Israel, hath 
entered in by it, therefore it shall be shut. It is for the 
prince; the prince, he shall sit in it to eat bread before the 
Lord; he shall enter by way of the porch of that gate, and 
shall go out by the way of the same” (Ezekiel 44:2-3). To 
Christian theologians, this closed gate (porta clausa), 
which only the Lord entered and left, was a symbol of 
Mary’s virginity; the prince was Christ and the bread the 
Eucharist. Giotto’s choice of cusped Gothic arches for the 
balconies on either side is important, for throughout the 
chapel Giotto used the older round Romanesque arch to 
refer to the Old Law and the modern pointed Gothic arch 
as a symbol for the New Testament. Here, at the moment 
of Christ’s conception, we see, appropriately, the first 
Gothic arches in the cycle. 

Giotto represented the Annunciation, Christ’s incarna- 
tion in human form, in a new way that communicates his 
understanding of the human experience. He stressed the 
moment in which Mary accepts her responsibility, when 


80 * THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 



she says: “Be it done to me according to thy word.” To 
indicate her agreement, she crosses her hands upon her 
chest and kneels; in earlier Byzantine examples, Mary had 
always been represented as standing. A flood of light, 
painted with a soft orange-yellow pigment, descends on 
the figure of the Virgin. This suggests actual light, not 
golden rays (even though the haloes are still rendered as 
gold disks). Since there are no sources of natural light in 
Giotto’s art, this must be the light of heaven. Light was (and 
b| identified mystically with Christ: “In him was life; and 
tie life was the light of men. ... That is the true Light which 
lights every man who comes into the world” (John 1:4, 9). 

The limited spaces into which Giotto placed Gabriel and 
Mary were probably derived from stage constructions used 
in earlier Paduan dramatizations of the Annunciation. 


Such re-enactments started at the local cathedral and 
culminated in performances in the Arena Chapel. 
Following convention, Giotto removed the front walls to 
show the interiors. 

Before Giotto, Italian artists had almost always placed 
the Nativity in a cave, a Byzantine tradition. The biblical 
account, however, specifies no precise setting. In the Arena 
Chapel j Giotto, perhaps under the influence of French 
Gothic developments, depicted the scene in a shed (fig. 
3.10). Fie also eliminated the scene of the baby’s bath 
common in Byzantine-inspired representations (see fig. 
4.4). Here a midwife hands the Christ Child, already 
washed and wrapped, to Mary, while the animals look on 
in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy: “The ox 
knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib” (Isaiah 



L 10. GIOTTO. Nativity and Annunciation to the Shepherds . Fresco, 6'6 3 /4" x 6' 7 /8 M (2 x 1.85 m). Arena Chapel, Padua. 


FLORENTINE ART OF THE EARLY TRECENTO * 8 I 



1:3). One shepherd has turned his back to us — a seemingly 
simple device that reveals Giotto’s new attitude toward 
space: he could turn and move his figures in any direction. 
Giotto’s backs, moreover, can be expressive: the shepherd’s 
astonishment is evident in the set of his shoulders, the way 
his head tilts back, and how he pulls his garment more 
tightly around him. 

The adult Christ in the Raising of Lazarus (fig. 3.11) is 
the short-bearded Christ of French Gothic tradition, as at 
Amiens Cathedral (see fig. 2.25). He appears more natural 
than the Byzantine type favored by Coppo and Cimabue. 
Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, prostrate themselves 
before Christ in supplication, while he calls their brother 
from the dead with a simple gesture. Giotto included the 


figures who cover their noses mentioned in the biblical text 
(“by this time he stinketh,” John 11:39). The scene is 
divided into simple blocks of figures by broad diagonals, 
verticals, and rhythmic curves. 

Giotto again used a figure’s back as an expressive device 
in the workman on the right. The pale pea-green of his 
robe has rust-colored shadows, the formula for which was 
recorded in Cennini’s handbook. A striking bit of coloris- 
tic freedom appears in the veined marble of the tomb slab. 
The blue of several garments, including that of Christ, was 
rendered in a pigment that, Cennini said, could not be 
painted in true fresco and therefore had to be added a 
secco. As a result of peeling, the underlying painting has 
been partially revealed. On this, the north wall, Gothic 



3.11. GIOTTO. Raising of Lazarus. Fresco, 6'6 3 / 4 " x 6' 7 / s" (2 x 1.85 m). Arena Chapel, Padua. The small scene in the quatrefoil to the left is the 
Creation of Adam. See also fig. 3.5. 


82 * THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 


quatrefoils frame smaller scenes that act as commentaries 
on the large scenes of Christ’s life. In this case the Old 
Testament scene of God creating Adam is a fitting parallel 
for Christ raising Lazarus. 

In the Kiss of Judas (fig. 3.12), Giotto followed the 
conventional composition of the narrative. Christ’s body 
almost disappears in the sweep of Judas’s cloak, but he 
stands as firmly as he did in the Raising of Lazarus , and 
with the same calm gaze. Giotto exploited the contrast 
between Christ’s profile and the rather bestial features of 
Judas, whose lips are pursed for the treacherous kiss. 
These details express the age-old confrontation between 
good and evil. The contrast is made even more striking 
since, in the preceding scene of the Last Supper , Judas 
had the same handsome, youthful face as some of the 
other apostles. But the Gospel account tells us that the 
devil entered into Judas when he dipped his bread in 


the wine at the Last Supper (John 13:27; see p. 272). 
Giotto heightens the drama in this scene by inserting the 
faces of two Roman soldiers between the profiles of 
Judas and Christ. 

Two subplots flank the main group. To the left is the 
episode of Peter cutting off the ear of Malchus, the high 
priest’s servant, which iconographic tradition required. 
Giotto virtually concealed the event behind the hulking 
back of a hooded attendant, who tries to restrain one of 
the fleeing apostles. On the right, the high priest points 
toward the treacherous embrace in the center, yet he seems 
to vacillate as he does so, as if unable to face the wicked- 
ness of Judas’s betrayal. Note that Christ’s halo, modeled 
in plaster, is foreshortened and seems to recede into space. 
The swords, halberds, and torches were painted a secco 
and have mostly peeled off, dissipating some of the 
composition’s original effect, but the manner in which these 



3.12. GIOTTO. Kiss of Judas. Fresco, 6 ' 6 3 / 4 " x 6 1 7 /s " (2 x 1.85 m). Arena Chapel, Padua. 


FLORENTINE ART OF THE EARLY TRECENTO • 83 




3.13. GIOTTO. Lamentation. Fresco, 6'6 3 / 4 " x 6 ,7 /8" (2 x 1.85 m). Arena Chapel, Padua. The small scene in the quatrefoil to the left is Jonah Being 
Swallowed by the Whale , which was interpreted by theologians as an Old Testament parallel to this period in the life of Christ. See also fig. 3.5. 


weapons converge to focus our attention on the faces of the 
two protagonists increases the effect of climactic drama. 

The Lamentation (fig. 3.13; see fig. 3.5), like the Kiss of 
Judas , follows in its most general outlines the traditional 
Byzantine type (see fig. 2.5) common in Duecento Italy (see 
figs. 2.4, 2.7). The dead Christ is stretched across the lap 
of Mary, his head upheld by a mourning figure seen only 
from the back, while another holds up one of his hands. 
Mary Magdalen gazes down at his feet. John the Evange- 
list stands with arms outstretched, and the long line of the 
barren rock behind him leads the eye back down to the 
intimate interchange between Mary and Christ. The angels 
here move discordantly, twisting and turning first toward 
us, then away, while the drapery lines of the main figures 
draw our attention downward, toward the earth. Here and 
there Giotto’s startling use of color is visible: note the 
apostle to the far right, whose green cloak has plum- 
colored shadows. 

The scenes of the cycle were selected and arranged to 
bring out underlying theological and dramatic relation- 


ships. The scene that follows the Lamentation , for 
example, is the Noli Me Tangere (see fig. 3.5), which 
shows the moment after the Resurrection when Mary 
Magdalene sees Christ near his tomb, and he tells her that 
she should not touch him (“Noli me tangere”). As Christ 
moves away from Mary to express this idea, part of his 
figure disappears behind Giotto’s painted border. While 
the composition of the Lamentation has a focal point in 
the lower left corner, dragging the viewer’s eyes downward 
and stopping the left-to-right narrative flow, the placement 
of Christ to the far right in the subsequent scene jump- 
starts the narrative again. Above the Noli Me Tangere is 
the Raising of Lazarus , a scene of resurrection that paral- 
lels that of Christ below it. 

The Last Judgment (see fig. 3.1) fills the entire entrance 
wall, except for the window, around which Giotto 
deployed ranks of angels. On either side of the window, 
archangels roll away the sun, the moon, and the heavens 
like a scroll (Isaiah 34:4; Revelation 6:14), revealing the 
golden gates of paradise. In the center of the wall, Christ, 


84 * THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 




wearing his seamless robe, appears as judge. His throne 
and the great mandorla that surrounds him are made up of 
colored feathers graduated in color and tone like the wings 
of Duecento angels. Whereas Coppo’s terrifying judge (see 
fig. 2.9) stares impassively, Giotto’s compassionate Christ 
averts his face from the damned and seems to betray grief 
over their fate. The apostles are enthroned to the sides. 
Below, the dead rise from their graves and are welcomed 
into heaven or consigned to hell. The Divine Comedy , 
begun by Dante at approximately this time, would provide 
later painters with an inexhaustible supply of details about 
the torments of hell, but Giotto here represented a limited 
number of punishments. The explicit physical torment suf- 
fered by some of the sinners is unforgettable. A monk is 
hung by his tongue, for example, while the woman next to 
him is suspended by her hair. One figure is being turned on 
a spit, while a trussed woman has hot lead poured into her 
mouth. A_ devil uses tongs to squeeze the penis of one 
sinner. Although these figures are small, their individual 
suffering is clearly visible to the observer standing in the 


chapel. Rivers of red and orange fire flow from the throne 
of Christ to engulf the damned. The physical nature of 
many of the punishments seems consistent with Giotto’s 
interest in naturalism and human experience. 

Over the door of the chapel, angels hold the cross of 
Christ. Kneeling below are Enrico Scrovegni and an Augus- 
tinian monk (fig. 3.14), who together hold a model of the 
Arena Chapel as Scrovegni’s offering. These two portraits 
and others found within the ranks of the blessed are early 
examples of the interest in portraiture that will emerge in 
the fifteenth century; perhaps a self-portrait of Giotto and 
portraits of his assistants are included among the blessed. 
Enrico Scrovegni would have been recognizable to con- 
temporary Paduans; one wonders what their reactions 
were to the placement of this notorious usurer among the 
blessed. The identity of the figures who stand behind the 
model of the chapel has been a matter of controversy, but 
the central one is certainly the Virgin Mary, to whom the 
chapel was dedicated; her extended hand suggest that 
Scrovegni’s offering would be acceptable to her. 



3.14. GIOTTO. Enrico Scrovegni Offering the Model of the Arena Chapel to the Virgin Mary, detail of Last Judgment (see fig. 3.1). 
Arena Chapel, Padua. 


• 8 5 


FLORENTINE ART OF THE EARLY TRECENTO 




3.15, 3.16, 3.17. GIOTT O. Justice, Injustice (see fig. 3.5), and Inconstancy . Fresco, each 47 V 4 x 21 Vs" (120 x 55 cm). Arena Chapel, Padua. 


The virtues and vices on the lower sections of the walls 
recall a tradition common in French Gothic portal sculp- 
ture. Justice (fig. 3.15) is a regal female figure before 
whom commerce, agriculture, and travel proceed undis- 
turbed. Her male counterpart, Injustice (fig. 3.16), is a 
robber baron (reminding us that Padua and Florence were 
merchant republics organized against the nobility), who, 
from his castle gates surrounded by rocks and forests, pre- 
sides over rape and murder. The vice of Inconstancy (fig. 
3.17) tilts on a precarious wheel, losing the very balance 
that for Giotto was an essential aspect of human existence. 
The painted marble panels that surround them (see fig. 
3.5) offer beautiful patterns and reveal the skill of Giotto 
and his workshop at trompe I’oeil painting. 

THE OGNISSANTI MADONNA. The Enthroned 
Madonna with Saints (fig. 3.18), painted for the Church of 
Ognissanti (All Saints), was probably executed between 
1305 and 1310. The gabled shape is similar to that of 
Duccio’s Madonna and Child for the Laudesi (see fig. 4.1), 
Cimabue’s Enthroned Madonna and Child (see fig. 2.10), 
and other Duecento altarpieces. Giotto placed the Virgin 
on a Gothic throne, similar to that of Justice in the Arena 
Chapel. With its pointed vault, delicate gable ornamented 


with crockets, and open wings, the throne provides a cubic 
space for the Madonna that is utterly different from the 
elaborate Byzantine thrones of the Duecento. Narrow 
panels are filled with delicate ornament that contrasts with 
the abstract forms of the marble veining, which are fluid 
and brilliant in color. The Virgin gazes outward with the 
calm dignity we expect from Giotto, but her lips are parted 
to give the effect of the natural passage of breath. Com- 
pared to earlier Duecento Madonnas, Giotto’s Madonna 
expresses stability and warm humanity. Christ lifts his 
right hand in a gesture of teaching, holds the scroll in his 
left, and opens his mouth as if speaking. 

As in the Crucifix and the frescoes, Giotto has aban- 
doned the anatomical compartmentalization of the Italo- 
Byzantine style. The delicate forms of the stone throne 
enhance the suggestion of massive bodies placed in depth. 
The robust Christ Child is lightly but firmly held by his 
mother, whose fingertips press against his waist. Her right 
hand is sculptural in its apparent roundness, and the round 
neckline of the tunic enhances the cylindrical shape of her 
neck. Christ’s massive head turns in space, completely 
hiding the right ear from sight. 

On each side of the throne saints are grouped with 
angels, and all are smaller in scale than Mary, Queen of 


3.18. GIOTTO. Enthroned Madonna with Saints ( Ognissanti Madonna), c. 1305-10. Panel, 10'8" x 6 ' 8 V 4 " (3.25 x 2 m). Uffizi Gallery, 
Florence. Commissioned for the high altar of the Church of Ognissanti in Florence. 


86 * THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 





FLORENTINE ART OP THE EARLY TRECENTO 


87 



Heaven. The two foremost standing angels hold a 
crown and a box. They are in profile, as are the kneeling 
angels before the throne who present vases of lilies and 
roses, symbols of the Virgin. The clarity of their profiles is 
strikingly similar to that of Giovanni Pisano’s Madonna 
made for the Arena Chapel (see fig. 2.32). They look 
awestruck, suggesting that they are participants in a heav- 
enly scene. 


THE BARDI AND PERUZZI CHAPELS. After 
the fresco cycle in Padua and the Ognissanti Madonna , 
Giotto’s style underwent a change. Of the four fresco 
cycles he and his bottega painted in the Franciscan Church 
of Santa Croce in Florence, only two examples survive, in 
the chapels of the Bardi and Peruzzi, families who con- 
trolled Italy’s two greatest banking houses (fig. 3.19). Both 
appear to date from the 1320s, a period of turmoil during 



3.19. View of the interior of the Franciscan Church of Sta. Croce in Florence. A fresco cycle of 1388-93 by Agnolo Gaddi (see fig. 5.11) 
surrounds the high altar in the center, and the fresco cycle of the Bardi Chapel by Giotto (see figs. 3.20-3.23) is to the right. 


88 * THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 




which the popular government was threatened from 
within, while attacks from the Ghibeliine forces of Pisa 
and Lucca reduced the republic’s territory. Under such cir- 
cumstances, perhaps the heroic harmonies of the Arena 
Chapel could not be recaptured. 

Both chapels were whitewashed in the eighteenth 
century and cleaned and overpainted in the nineteenth. A 
twentieth-century restoration removed most repainting, 
(Revealing a different situation in each chapel. The Bardi 
Chapel, frescoed with scenes from the life of St. Francis, 
reappeared in good condition, except for gaps left by 
earlier mutilations. But since the Peruzzi Chapel was 
painted largely a secco and later whitewashed, it is a ghost 
of its former self and none of its scenes is illustrated here. 
In all his fresco cycles, Giotto must have had assistance in 
laying out the surface and in the actual painting, especially 
when rendering the background figures and less important 
details. Conservation work in both chapels has shown that 
there were no sinopie on the walls, so preparatory draw- 


ings on paper or parchment were probably used to trans- 
fer Giotto’s ideas to the pictorial surface. 

At first sight, little appears to be going on in the Bardi 
frescoes, but a closer look discloses how Giotto modified 
his dramatic style in his later years. St, Francis Undergoing 
the Test by Fire Before the Sultan of Egypt (fig. 3.20) rep- 
resents an episode from Francis’s trip in 1219 to Egypt, 
where he tried to convert Sultan Melek-el-Kamel. Francis 
offered to walk through fire to prove his faith, challenging 
Muslim scholars to undergo a similar test. In his represen- 
tation of this event, Giotto stepped back from the intensity 
that made the Arena Chapel frescoes so powerful. The 
sultan sits on his throne, while on the right St. Francis 
calmly prepares to enter the fire. The scholars’ fear is con- 
veyed through their positions and expressions. The two 
servants beside them (among the earliest known represen- 
tations of black people in Western art) are naturalistically 
rendered in their rich coloring, set off by their luminous 
white and soft gray garments, and in their facial structure. 



3.20. GIOTTO. St. Francis Undergoing the Test by Fire Before the Sultan of Egypt. Probably 1320s. Fresco, 9'2" x 14'9" (2.8 x 4.5 m). Bardi 
Chapel, Sta. Croce, Florence. Commissioned by a member of the Bardi family. 


FLORENTINE ART OF THE EARLY TRECENTO * 89 



3.21. GIOTTO. Funeral of St Francis. Probably 1320s. Fresco, 9'2" x 149" (2.8 x 4.5 m). Bardi Chapel, Sta. Croce, Florence. 


To appreciate the Funeral of St. Francis (fig. 3.21) we 
must ignore the mutilation that resulted when the frescoes 
were whitewashed and a tomb, now removed, was added. 
The saint lies upon a bier. Friars crowd around him, weeping, 
kissing his hands and feet, or gazing into his face. Priests 
and monks at the saint’s head intone the service for the 
dead. A richly dressed knight, his back to the spectator, 
kneels beside Francis and thrusts his hand into the wound 
in the saint’s side in order to prove Francis’s stigmata. 
Above, angels bear the released soul heavenward, his Fran- 
ciscan habit now transformed into a celestial amethyst 
shade. The composition is carefully balanced, but a closer 
view reveals dramatic details (fig. 3.22). The face of the 
saint, and those of the mourners, express powerful 
emotion. The new calm and breadth of the Bardi fresco is 
evident in the response of the brother who looks upward 
in wonder at the soul being carried to heaven, whose 
expression seems to have been painted quickly in order to 
capture the figure’s astonishment. 

Above the entrance to the chapel is Giotto’s Stigmatiza- 
tion of St. Francis (fig. 3.23), which is visible in the views 
of Santa Croce to the right of the chancel opening (see figs. 



3.22. Detail of fig. 3.21. 


9 0 * 


THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 


1 4 


2.36, 3.19). This subject had been represented many times 
since its earliest known depiction by Bonaventura 
Berlinghieri (see fig. 2.6, upper left-hand corner). Accord- 
ing to the Legenda Maior , the official life of St. Francis 
written by St. Bonaventura, Francis was meditating on the 
lofty peak of La Verna when he asked a follower to bring 
him the Gospels and open them at random. Three times 
the book opened to the sufferings of Christ. At that 
moment, Francis knew he had been chosen to endure trials 
similar to those of Christ. Suddenly, a six-winged flaming 
seraph descended toward him, and in the midst of the 
wings appeared a crucified figure. Christ’s Crucifixion 
pierced St. Francis’s soul “with a sword of compassionate 
grief,” and when the vision disappeared, the marks of the 
nails began to appear in his hands and feet, turning rapidly 
into the nails themselves — the heads on one side, the bent- 
down points on the other — and his right side was marked 
with a wound that often bled. A later version of the life of 
St. Francis, the anonymous Fioretti (“little flowers”), 


speaks of a light that illuminated the surrounding moun- 
tains. Berlinghieri did not depict this light in any way, but 
other Duecento painters represented it as stripes of gold 
descending toward the saint. In Giotto’s fresco, gold rays 
project from the wounds of Christ to the corresponding 
spots on Francis’s body. The spiritual light radiating from 
the figure of Christ is the sole source of illumination. A tree 
to the right bends as if swayed by the storm of the appari- 
tion. On the left is the saint’s cave, while the falcon who 
awakened Francis each morning is perched on a ledge 
below the summit of the peak. 

In earlier representations, St. Francis kneels before the 
vision on one knee or both; here he turns away and then, 
raising his right knee, turns back toward the vision in what 
seems to be a combination of fear, surprise, pain, and, 
finally, acceptance. Only much later, in the works of 
Michelangelo, will we find a colossal figure of such com- 
plexity or one that so richly combines changing spiritual 
states and dynamic physical movement. 



3.23. GIOTTO. Stigmatization of St. Francis . Probably 1320s. Fresco, 12' 9" x 12'2" (3.9 x 3.7 m). Bardi Chapel, Sta. Croce, Florence. 


FLORENTINE ART OF THE EARLY TRECENTO • 91 



THE DESIGN FOR THE CAMPANILE OF 
FLORENCE C AT H E D R A L . The principal surviving 
achievement of Giotto’s last years is his design for the 
Campanile of the Cathedral of Florence (fig. 3.24). In 
January 1334, the commune appointed Giotto capomae- 
stro of the cathedral in an extraordinary document that 
extols his fame as a painter but mentions no architectural 
training or experience. By this time, only the partially com- 
pleted facade and south wall of the cathedral had been 
built. In April 1334, a document mentions the Campanile, 
the only portion of the cathedral with which the aging 
artist was involved. By January 1337, Giotto had died, but 
in the brief intervening period, work had proceeded on the 
bell tower at a rapid pace. A massive foundation was laid, 
and the first story constructed based on a large, tinted 
drawing on parchment. The drawing itself was probably 
carried out by assistants under Giotto’s direction. 

In the tradition of Tuscan campanili , the windows mul- 
tiply as the stories rise. The final story in the drawing is an 
octagonal bell chamber flanked by pinnacles that are set 
on octagonal corner buttresses rising from the ground. 
Giotto’s design has been related to that of an earlier tower 
at the Cathedral of Freiburg im Breisgau in Germany. In 
certain respects, the two structures are quite different: 
while Giotto’s spire and pinnacles are solid, those at 
Freiburg, as in most other German cathedrals, are open 
tracery. Both the angles of Giotto’s spire and the character 
of its crockets correspond to those of the solid spires 
begun, but never carried out, on the towers of Reims 
Cathedral in France. The tracery of Giotto’s windows, 
with their beautiful pointed arches and crocketed gables, 
also resembles that at Reims. 

The lower story of the Campanile as built (fig. 3.25) 
relates closely to Giotto’s design, in which hexagons of 
white marble are placed within vertical pink marble 
panels. In the drawing these hexagons are repeated in the 
second story in a staccato pattern within bands enframing 
a quatrefoil window; two such bands appear on the third 
and fourth stories, one on the fifth, and none thereafter. 
Looking up, the effect would have been an oscillation of 
white hexagons against pink to the height of about 200 
feet. There would have been seventy-five hexagons on each 
face of the Campanile, or three hundred for the entire 
structure, which tells us something about Giotto’s desire 
for mathematical balance. Giotto’s tower, furthermore, has 


3.24. GIOTTO (design attributed to). Proposed design for the Campanile of the Cathedral, 
Florence, c. 1334. Tinted drawing on parchment, height of image 6 TO" (2.08 m). Museo 
dell’Opera del Duomo, Siena. Commissioned by the Arte della Lana. 


92 * THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 



seven stories — the number of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit 
and of the Joys and Sorrows of the Virgin. In addition, the 
hexagons are grouped in sevens, fours, eights (numbers 
connected with the Resurrection), and twelves (the number 
of the apostles and the gates of the New Jerusalem); and 
the perfect number one hundred is multiplied in their total 
by the number of the Trinity. Such number symbolism was 
widespread in the later Middle Ages. 

Giotto, aware of the force of wind pressure on such a 
lofty bell chamber, added iron tie-rods from the pinnacles 
through the oculi of the corner windows, possibly to some 
stabilizing framework inside. Given his caution, it is sur- 
prising that he crowned his slender pinnacles with marble 
angels, their wings widespread, and poised a colossal 
Archangel Michael holding a banner on the tip of his spire, 
some 300 feet above the ground; all of these would have 
been exposed to wind, rain, ice, and snow. His successors 
chose not to follow his design (see p. 68). After his death 
it was discovered that the walls of the first story were 
insubstantial and their thickness had to be doubled. After 
all, Giotto was a painter, not an engineer or mason, and his 
design for the tower was a painter’s tribute to the glory of 
his beloved Florence. 

UPPER CHURCH OF SAN FRANCESCO, 
ASSISI. One of the most extensive Italian fresco cycles is 
the series of twenty-eight scenes from the life of St. Francis 
in the Upper Church of San Francesco at Assisi (see fig. 
2.15). The cycle is also of special importance given the 
subject matter. What has vexed scholars has been the pos- 
sible role of Giotto in designing and/or painting the cycle 
early in his career. This topic has been left until this point 
because there is still no general agreement. 

Some scholars accept all but four of the scenes as early 
works of Giotto, but many others reject this attribution 
and date the scenes somewhat later. A few contemporane- 
ous models existed for some scenes (see fig. 2.6), but no 
models survive for most of them and the solutions to 
the narrative problems raised by the new subjects often 
display striking originality, conceived in terms of a fresh, 
new naturalism. 

No documents survive that would shed light on the 
series, and references to Giotto’s work “at Assisi” may well 
refer to other paintings and not the Francis cycle. A chron- 
icler named Riccobaldo wrote in approximately 1313 that 


3.25. Campanile of the Cathedral, Florence. Lowest story by Giotto, 
1334-37; next three stories by Andrea Pisano, c. 1337-43; remainder by 
Francesco Talenti, 1350s. Height 278' (84.7 m) Commissioned by the 
Arte della Lana. For examples of the sculptural decoration, see figs. 
1.11,3.32, 7.17. 


FLORENTINE ART OF THE EARLY TRECENTO * 93 



the quality of Giotto’s art can be seen in “the works he 
made in the churches of the Franciscans at Assisi, Rimini, 
and Padua, and in the church of the Arena.” Since the 
Arena ChapeJ frescoes have been preserved, and since we 
know that paintings by Giotto once decorated the Francis- 
can churches in Rimini and Padua, it is argued that Ric- 
cobaldo, writing while Giotto was still alive, was correct 
about Assisi as well and that his remarks could only refer 
to the St. Francis cycle. 

In each bay, painted spiral colonnettes resting on con- 
soles and supporting an elaborate architrave above divide 
the wall into three or four scenes (fig. 3.26). By simulating 
architectural space, the artist responsible for the general 
layout established the illusion of a continuous portico as 
deep as the real catwalk above. Through this portico we 
read the vivid scenes of the life of St. Francis, largely based 
on the account in the Legenda Maior of St. Bona ventura. 

Each bay is organized as a triptych, as in Scenes IV-VI 
shown here, in which two incidents involving collapsing 
churches flank a central event taking place in an open 
piazza. As in these scenes, the actual sequence of incidents 
in the Legenda Maior was sometimes altered in the Assisi 
cycle to demonstrate an underlying narrative and spiritual 
structure. In St. Francis Praying Before the Crucifix at San 
Damiano , the jagged masses of fragmentary walls quickly 
attract attention. In the second scene, St Francis Renounc- 


ing His Worldly Goods , the piazza is split vertically, 
leaving on one side Francis’s raging father and on the other 
an embarrassed bishop cloaking the naked saint; Francis 
stretches out his hands in prayer to the hand of God, which 
can be seen above. The complex setting suggests the detail 
and charm of an Italian cityscape, and is unlike Giotto’s 
more rudimentary architectural forms. The Dream of 
Innocent III shows the pope reclining in a sumptuous 
interior, while Francis upholds a collapsing building 
identifiable as the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano. 
Throughout the cycle, the color is crisp, clear, and decorative. 

Despite the originality of the conceptions and fascinat- 
ing episodes of careful observation, the compositions are 
staccato and abrupt, in contrast to Giotto’s characteristic 
sense of balance. Facial expressions are generally uncom- 
municative, while the figures themselves do not have the 
massive presence of those of Giotto. Neither the impact 
nor the force of Giotto’s figures is present in the Assisi 
cycle, while profiles, so characteristic of Giotto, are rare. 
The landscape scenes, none of which is illustrated here, 
have a kind of complexity alien not only to Giotto’s land- 
scape as we know it, but also to the manner of composing 
that Cennino Cennini said was derived from Giotto. To 
many, the differences in style and quality between the 
Francis cycle and the known works of Giotto are too great 
to be embraced by the style of a single artist. 



3.26. MASTER OF THE ST. FRANCIS CYCLE. St. Francis Praying Before the Crucifix at San Damiano ; St. Francis Renouncing His 
Worldly Goods; Dream of Innocent III Early fourteenth century. Fresco, each 8'10" x 77" (2.7 x 2.3 m). Upper Church of S. Francesco, Assisi. 
See also fig. 2.15. 


94 * THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 



The need to demonstrate that the Francis cycle at Assisi 
is not by Giotto has had a somewhat negative impact on its 
reputation, preventing us from recognizing its unique qual- 
ities. The cycle is revolutionary in ways that reveal an 
alternative direction to that taken by Giotto. Many of the 
scenes at Assisi offer a vivid, naturalistic effect that indi- 
cates an interest in capturing vignettes of everyday life. In 
several scenes the artist squeezes in the crowds that must 
have accompanied Francis, while in others we have 
glimpses of authentic, albeit miniaturized, architecture 
from the period, such as the convincing depiction of the 
ruined church in figure 3.26. In a scene not illustrated here 
that is set in Assisi, the artist represented the facade of an 
ancient Roman temple that is near the church where we 
view the fresco; such an inclusion was intended to con- 
vince the viewer that the miracle represented was vivid and 
real. The life and character of Francis of Assisi, who lived, 
died, and was canonized less than a century before the fres- 
coes were painted, are rendered accessible and immediate 
in the daring new naturalism of this cycle. 

While the style suggests that at least three different 
masters painted the scenes, the consistency of the compo- 


sitions suggests that one artist must have made designs for 
all twenty-eight, which were then approved by the superior 
general of the Franciscan Order. The connections with 
ancient Roman architecture and painting are so strong that 
it seems likely the master who designed the cycle and the 
painters of the majority of the scenes were from Rome, of 
a generation following Jacopo Torriti and Pietro Cavallini. 

Florentine Painters after Giotto 

The authority of Giotto’s style in Florence was so great 
that it may well have impeded the emergence of other 
innovative artists. Nonetheless, three of Giotto’s Florentine 
assistants became important painters in their own right. 
Closest to the master, perhaps, is Maso di Banco (active 
1330s and 1340s). His fresco cycle at Santa Croce featured 
scenes from the lives of the Emperor Constantine and St. 
Sylvester, the pope whose legend held that he baptized the 
emperor. In one scene set in the Roman forum, St. Sylvester 
seals the mouth of a dragon whose breath has killed two 
pagan magicians (fig. 3.27). The magicians lie dead amid 
Roman ruins but then Sylvester resurrects them and they 



3.27. MASO DI BANCO. St. Sylvester Sealing the Dragon’s Mouth and Resuscitating Two Pagan Magicians, c. 1336-39. Fresco, width 17' 6" 
(5.34 m). Bardi-Bardi di Vemio Chapel, Sta. Croce, Florence. 


FLORENTINE ART OF THE EARLY TRECENTO * 95 


are shown alive, kneeling in thankfulness. This before-and- 
after representation is typical of Trecento miracle 
paintings. The massive figures and treatment of space 
and lighting were learned from Giotto but, through 
overlapping, Maso has created a much greater sense of 
spatial depth and complexity than is found in the works of 
Giotto. The Roman ruins, with their piles of debris, empty 
arches, and plants growing in the cracks, evoke the 
desolation wrought by the dragon, an essential part of 
the narrative. 


Bernardo Daddi (active c. 1312^48), another Giotto fol- 
lower, is an artist whose sensitivity was more suited to panel 
paintings than to frescoes. A triptych intended for personal 
devotion (fig. 3.28) is typical of the intimacy of his best 
pictures, showing a different approach to the Virgin and 
Child from the majestic images in the tradition that runs 
from Coppo di Marcovaldo to Giotto. Daddi’s Virgin 
smiles gently as she admonishes the playful Christ Child. 
The delicate Gothic forms of the throne provide ample 
space for her, yet seem to diminish her monumental size. The 



3.28. BERNARDO DADDI. Triptych. 1333 (?). Central panel, 35 3 /s x 38V8" (89 x 97 cm). Loggia del Bigallo, Florence. 


96 • THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 


donors are smaller in scale, following convention. Saints 
and prophets frame the main scene. The intimacy extends to 
the side wings: in the Nativity to the left, for example, Mary 
has taken Christ out of the manger to cradle him on her lap, 
while the Crucifixion on the right is calm and restrained, 
creating an effect of introspection in the figures of Francis, 
kneeling at the foot of the cross, and St. John the Evangelist. 

The intimacy of Daddi’s narratives is probably the result 
of a happy conjunction of his own temperament, the more 
relaxed taste of the 1340s, and the example of Gothic 


ivory carvings brought from France, which often reveal a 
similar sweetness and playfulness. But Daddi is never sen- 
timental: his forms are round and firm, his drawing is 
precise, his modeling clear, and his color resonant. His 
drapery folds flow easily while still emphasizing the three- 
dimensional bodies of his figures. 

The principal achievement of Taddeo Gaddi (active 
c. 1328-c. 1366), another faithful follower of Giotto and 
father of Agnolo Gaddi, is the fresco cycle in the Baroncelli 
Chapel, one of the larger chapels in Santa Croce (fig. 3.29). 



3.29. View of the Baroncelli Chapel, Sta. Croce, Florence, with frescoes of scenes from the Life of the Virgin by Taddeo Gaddi of c. 1328-30 and 
an altarpiece of the Coronation of the Virgin unth Saints signed by Giotto. Frescoes commissioned by Bivigliano, Bartolo, and Salvestro Manetti 
and by Vanni and Piero Bandini de’ Baroncelli. The frescoes on the vault represent the Four Cardinal Virtues. The stained-glass window, 
designed by Taddeo Gaddi, features standing figures of saints with, at the top, the Stigmatization of St. Francis. 


* 9 7 


FLORENTINE ART OF THE EARLY TRECENTO 



As much of the work was produced during Giotto’s 
last years, it may reflect his ideas. Giotto signed the 
altarpiece, although critics agree that it is largely a work- 
shop production. The Annunciation to the Shepherds 
(fig. 3.30) is notable for its dramatic rendering of the effect 
of nighttime light, an important forerunner of later efforts 
in this direction, including Correggio’s Cinquecento 
Adoration of the Shepherds (see fig. 18.42), and all its 
Baroque descendants. The angel casts a strong light onto 
the dark hillside, where the shepherds are guarding 
their sheep. 


Taddeo’s Last Supper with the Tree of Life in the refec- 
tory of Santa Croce shows the vigor of this painter (fig. 
3.31). The fresco illustrates a theme developed by St. 
Bona ventura. Christ hangs not upon the conventional 
cross but upon the symbolic Tree of Life, which grew 
alongside the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden 
(Genesis 2:9). The medallions hanging from it, the fruits of 
this tree, represent the four Evangelists and twelve 
prophets. With the exception of the Stigmatization of St. 
Francis , the scenes to the sides are set at meals, an appro- 
priate choice for the refectory where the monks ate while 



3.30. TADDEO GADDI. 
Annunciation to the Shepherds . 
c. 1328-30. Fresco. Baroncelli 
Chapel, Sta. Croce, Florence. 
See also fig. 3.29. 


98 • THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 



listening to readings and sermons. The Last Supper below 
is the earliest surviving example of the many that still 
decorate the refectories of Florentine monasteries and 
convents. The strong, simple figures with their harsh 
expressions contrast with the delicate refinement of those 


by Daddi. Christ and the apostles seem to be placed in 
front of the bands that divide the upper scenes, so they are 
thrust forward toward the viewer. Judas is located on 
“our” side of the table, a placement that persists in art 
until Leonardo's Last Supper more than a century later. 



3.31. TADDEO GADDI. Frescoes of the Last Supper with the Tree of Life and Other Scenes, c. 1360. Width 39' (12 m). Refectory, Sta. Croce, 
Florence. Commissioned by the woman in the garments of a Franciscan tertiary kneeling at the foot of the cross, behind St. Francis. At the right 
are the Priest at his Easter Meal Receiving Word of St. Benedict's Plunger in the Wilderness and Maty Magdalen Washing the Feet of Christy at 
the left are the Stigmatization of St. Francis and St. Louis of Toulouse Feeding the Poor and Sick of Toulouse. 


FLORENTINE ART OF THE EARLY TRECENTO * 9 9 




Above: 3.32. ANDREA PISANO 
{from a design by Giotto?). Creation 
of Adam. c. 1334-37. Marble, 

32 3 /4 x 27 ’A" (83 x 69 cm). Removed 
from original location on the 
Campanile, Florence (see fig. 3.25 ■ 
and now in the Museo dell’Opera del 
Duomo, Florence. Commissioned by 
the Arte della Fana. 


3.33. ANDREA PISANO. South 
Doors. 1330-36. Bronze with 
gilding, 16' x 9'2” (4.86 x 2.8 m). 
Baptistery. Florence. Commissioned 
by the Arte di Calimala. The outer 
frame was commissioned from 
Lorenzo and Vittorio Ghiberti in 
1452 but not completed until 1463, 
eight years after Lorenzo’s death. 


Sculpture 

Giotto’s style dominated the art of the Trecento, including 
sculpture. The work of Andrea Pisano has a special 
relationship to Giotto and his works. Andrea (c. 
1290-1348) was of no relation to Nicola and Giovanni 
Pisano; he acquired his name because he came from a 
town then in Pisan territory. We have already noted his 
architectural work on the Florentine Campanile and the 
reliefs he sculpted, probably based on designs by Giotto to 
decorate the structure (see fig. 1. 1 if, Lorenzo Ghiberti 
claimed to have seen Giotto’s designs for these reliefs, 
which he says were “most exceptionally drawn.” The 
Creation of Adam (fig. 3.32), which begins the series, 


XOO • THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 






3.34. ANDREA PISANO 
(perhaps after a design by 
Giotto). The Baptism of the 
Multitude , panel on the South 
Doors. 1330-36. Bronze with 
gilding, 19V4X 17" (48x43 
cm). Baptistery, Florence. 


obviously derives directly from Giotto’s quatrefoil repre- 
senting the same subject in the decorative framework of 
the Arena Chapel (see figs. 3.5, 3.11). The figures and their 
poses are almost identical, although the increased size of 
Andrea’s image permitted the figure of God the Creator to 
be shown in its entirety and allowed the addition of a 
splendid array of trees, including both the Tree of Knowl- 
edge and the Tree of Life. 

Andrea had been brought to Florence as a specialist in 
bronze casting to help make a set of bronze doors for one 
of the portals of the Florentine Baptistery (see fig. 2.33). 
These doors feature twenty scenes from the life of St. John 
the Baptist with figures of eight virtues below (fig. 3.33). 
Like the two sets of doors by Ghiberti that followed in the 
Quattrocento, they consist of bronze panels set in a bronze 
frame. The figures and many of the raised elements of 
ornament, architecture, and landscape were originally 
covered with gold leaf. The individual compositions of the 
scenes from the Baptist’s life, with one exception, are 


derived from either the Baptistery mosaics (see fig. 2.9) or 
Giotto’s fresco cycle in the Peruzzi Chapel at Santa Croce; 
perhaps as an outsider Andrea’s contract required him to 
employ these Florentine models in representing the life of 
the city’s patron saint. Or, since Giotto was then the capo- 
maestro of the cathedral complex, it is possible that he 
might have provided drawings from these sources for 
Andrea to follow. The limited depth, well-spaced composi- 
tions, and simple stagelike sets are directly related to 
Giotto’s vision of form and space, and especially to his 
economy of statement. The scene of The Baptism of the 
Multitude (fig. 3.34) is neatly balanced inside the fashion- 
able Gothic quatrefoil. 

We have seen how Giotto’s new style and narrative inter- 
pretation dominated Florentine art in the first half of the 
Trecento. Before turning to its crucial role in the second 
half of the century, we need to turn our attention to the 
artistic changes that took place in another Tuscan city: 
Siena. Here, too, Giotto’s influence was to be important. 


FLORENTINE ART OF THE EARLY TRECENTO * IOI 




I o z 


T H 


LATE M 1 D D I E A G E S 





SIENESE ART OF 
THE EARLY TRECENTO 


A s in Florence, painters in Siena moved 
decisively away from the Byzantine style. 
During the late Duecento and early 
Trecento in Siena, it was Duccio di 
Buoninsegna (active 1278-1318) who was 
at the forefront of the new developments. 

Duccio 

Documents surviving from Duccio’s life show that fines 
were levied against the painter for breaking a curfew, 
declining to swear allegiance to an important official, and 
refusing to fulfill military service. He did not pay some of 
the fines for years, and when he died his children 
renounced his will, possibly because it consisted mostly of 
debts. In Siena, Duccio may well have witnessed the 
carving of the cathedral pulpit by Nicola Pisano and his 
assistants, including his son Giovanni (see fig. 2.24). In 
Florence, Cimabue’s Enthroned Madonna and Child in 
Santa Trinita (see fig. 2.10) must have excited the young 
painter. The earliest major work we know by Duccio is, 
surprisingly, a Florentine commission, a huge Madonna 
and Child (fig. 4.1) that has been identified with a 
Madonna commissioned in 1285 by a group founded to 
combat heresy, the “Society of the Virgin Mary.” Known 


popularly as the Laudesi from the lauds or hymns of praise 
they sang to the Virgin Mother, this group had its own 
chapel at Santa Maria Novella. 

In the Uffizi today, Cimabue’s and Duccio’s Madonnas 
are displayed in the same room, enabling us to contrast the 
differences between them. Duccio’s Virgin is seated side- 
ways on an elegant wooden throne seen slightly from the 
right. The surrounding angels kneel naturally on one knee, 
and their placement against the gold ground suggests that 
they physically support the throne. Except for the cloth 
around the legs of the Christ Child, Duccio has abandoned 
the Byzantine gold drapery striations used by Cimabue; 
Duccio’s drapery suggests the manner in which cloth wraps 
around and over three-dimensional bodies. The border of 
the Virgin’s cloak, embellished with a delicate golden 
fringe, cascades in a series of flowing curves that adds a 
decorative touch. The colors of the angels’ robes offer a 
refinement new to Italian panel painting, with flowerlike 
tones of lavender, yellow, rose, and luminous gray-blues 
and gray-lavenders. 

Refinement of surface is emphasized. The arches on the 
Virgin’s throne are hung with a splendid patterned silk, its 
folds indicated by strokes of thin wash brushed over the 
painted design. The same pattern reappears in the frag- 
mentary frescoes in the chapel of the Laudesi at Santa 


Opposite: 4.1. DUCCIO. Madonna and Child (Kucellai Madonna ). Commissioned 1285. Panel, 14'9V8" x 9'6V8" (4.5 x 2.9 m). Uffizi Gallery, 
Florence. Commissioned by the Society of the Virgin Mary (the “Laudesi”) but now known as the Kucellai Madonna because it once stood in the 
Rucellai family chapel in the Dominican church of Sta. Maria Novella (see fig. 2.35). 

The contract for this work clarifies the role patrons could take in directing an artist’s production, for it states that Duccio should “paint the said 
panel and adorn it with the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary and her omnipotent Son and other figures, in accordance with the wishes and 
pleasure of the said commissioners, and to gild it, and to do each and every thing which will contribute to the beauty of said panel .... ” Duccio’s 
fee for painting the panel, 150 “lire of small florins,” was stipulated in the contract. 


SIENESE ART OF THE EARLY TRECENTO • IO 3 


Maria Novella, suggesting that Duccio’s Madonna may 
have been part of a wider decorative program. The frescoes 
have been attributed to both Duccio and Cimabue. The 
gold of the haloes is tooled in a pattern of interlocking 
circles and foliate designs derived, like the patterns of the 
silk, from French Gothic sources, while tiny Gothic arches 
decorate the spindles of the throne. The frame is painted 
with a series of images of saints alternating with orna- 
mented bands. 

The ovoid shapes of the Virgin’s face are similar to those 
of Coppo di Marcovaldo’s Virgin (see fig. 2.8), but 
Duccio’s are more organic, in keeping with the Sienese 
artist’s interest in undulating line and more naturalistic 
form. Her eyes are outlined in curves that unite the brow 
with her long, slender nose. Her upper lip protrudes 
slightly and the chin recedes to suggest her modesty. The 
angels, whose faces are similarly constructed, gaze in 
reverence toward the Christ Child, who extends a blessing 
with his outstretched hand. 

Despite the subtle color and elegance of line, Duccio’s 
picture offers a revolutionary exploration of space with its 
side view of the throne and the clear articulation of its 
support by surrounding angels. This redefinition of the 
Italo-Byzantine style in terms of both space and decoration 
surely had an effect on contemporary Florentine painters, 
including the young Giotto. 

The small personal devotional image of the Madonna 
and Child by Duccio discussed in Chapter 1 as an example 
of tempera technique (see fig. 1.14) was painted at least a 
decade later, but the Byzantine influence is still paramount 
in the facial types. Duccio’s signature flowing line is 
repeated in the drapery patterns. What is new and remark- 
able here is the use of a parapet in perspective across the 
foreground, which serves to remove the holy figures from 
the real space of the worshipper — a device that did not 
become common until the second half of the fifteenth 
century. The figures are also humanized in a manner not 
often found in Byzantine examples, with Christ reaching 
up to touch the Virgin’s veil in a natural manner that has 
no precedent. The Madonna’s pensive gaze establishes an 
interaction between the figures. 

For Sienese citizens, the Virgin Mary was the Mother of 
God, the Queen of Heaven, and the patron saint of the 
republic; they were convinced, in fact, that the Virgin, 
accompanied by saints, protected their city. Siena was also 
known as Vetusta Civitas Virginis, the Ancient City of the 
Virgin. In 1308, Duccio was commissioned to create a high 
altarpiece for the cathedral, a striped marble structure at 
the apex of the city’s highest hill (see figs. 2.26-2.27). 
Three years later the colossal altarpiece was finished, and 
a contemporary description relates how it was carried in 
triumphal procession to the cathedral: 


At noontime on the ninth of June, with great devotions and 
processions, with the bishop of Siena ... all of the clergy of 
the Cathedral, and with all the monks and nuns of Siena, and 
the Nove [the Council of Nine], with the city officials, the 
Podesta and the Captain, and all the citizens with coats of 
arms ... with much devotion ... ringing all the bells for joy ... 
and throughout Siena they gave many alms to the poor 
people, with many speeches and prayers to God and to his 
mother, Madonna ever Virgin Mary, who helps, preserves, 
and increases in peace the good state of the city of Siena and 
its territory, as advocate and protectress of that city, and who 
defends the city from all danger and all evil. And so this panel 
was placed in the Cathedral on the high altar. 

The altarpiece was not only a religious triumph for the 
city, but also an artistic one for the painter. In 1506, 
however, it was replaced by a fashionable new ciborium, 
statues, and candlesticks, and when Vasari wrote his Lives 
in 1550 he was not even able to discover its location. 

Originally Duccio’s Virgin in Majesty — or simply the 
Maestd in Italian — was an enormous, Gothic-pinnacled, 
double-sided work (see figs. 4.5-4. 8); since the high altar 
stood under the dome of the cathedral, the back of the 
altarpiece was also visible. The central panel on the front 
is dominated by the enthroned Virgin (fig. 4.2) adored by 
saints and angels; immediately above is a row of bust- 
length prophets. 

The head of St. Catherine of Alexandria (fig. 4.3), at the 
extreme left, demonstrates how Duccio replaced the 
Byzantine demarcation of forms with a new, unified sense 
of surface. Catherine’s somber gaze is characteristic of 
Duccio’s figures, as is the Byzantine treatment of the eye so 
that the white is continuous below the iris. His treatment 
of the fabrics is refined: Catherine’s gold-embroidered 
scarf seems translucent, and we sense the shape of her head 
and see her hair through its flowing folds. Her mantle is 
painted over gold, and the paint has been tooled away in a 
pattern that suggests the sparkle of gold-thread damask. 
The Christ Child, who gazes directly outward at the 
observer, is a more natural, human baby than in earlier 
Sienese altarpieces. In line with the artist’s decreasing 
reliance on Byzantine motifs, gold striations appear only 
here and there in the richly modeled drapery that courses 
over the slender bodies. 

The Nativity from the front predella (fig. 4.4) preserves 
its original framing. Duccio kept the Byzantine cave, but 
also inserted the French Gothic shed, a compromise symp- 
tomatic of his artistic position, which draws upon both 
traditions. Mary, enveloped in her bright blue mantle, 
reclines on a scarlet mattress. Following Byzantine tradi- 
tion, she pays no attention to the Christ Child in the 
manger behind her. In the foreground, the Christ Child is 


104 


THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 



Above: 4.2. DUCCIO. Detail of the Madonna and Child , from the 
central front panel of the Maestd. 1308-11. Central front panel 
^hole), 7 x 13' (2.13 x 3.96 m). Musco dell’Opera del Duomo, 
Siena. Commissioned by the Opera del Duomo for the high altar 
of Siena Cathedral. 

The inscription includes Duccio’s only known signature: a Holy 
Mother of God, be thou the cause of peace for Siena and, because 
ae painted thee thus, of life for Duccio.” The altarpicce is recorded 
as costing 3,000 florins. 

The Sienese Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, like its Florentine counterpart 
and others elsewhere, exhibits works of art that were once on or in 
the city’s cathedral. It is located inside the vaults of what was once 
tta ended to be the side aisle of a much expanded cathedral, a plan 
that had to be aborted when the structure proved to be unstable. 



4.3. DUCCIO. Head of St. Catherine, detail of fig. 4.5. 


4.4. DUCCIO. Nativity 
and Prophets Isaiah and 
Ezekiel, from the front 
nredella of the Maestd (see 
hgs. 4. 5-4. 6). Tempera 
on panels: Nativity , 
iPb x 17V2 m (44 x 45 cm); 
Prophets , each I 7 V 4 x 6 V 2 " 
44 x 16.5 cm). National 
Gallery of Art, Washington, 
D.C. (Mellon Collection). 



SIENESE ART OF THE EARLY TRECENTO 


I O 5 




4.5. DUCCIO. Maesta . Conjectural reconstruction of the front, with predella, pinnacles, 
and framing elements. Digitized reconstruction by Lew Minter. 

It is possible that the predella needed to support such a huge altarpiece was so deep that 
each end held a narrative scene, in which case the predella reconstruction shown here and 
in figures 4.6-4. 8 would take a different form. The numbering sequence used for figures 
4. 5-4.8 is based on the narrative sequence, starting with the infancy of Christ on the front 
predella and finishing with the post-resurrection scenes on the back pinnacles, followed by 
the scenes of the later life of the Virgin on the front pinnacles. 


Below: 4.6. DUCCIO. Maesta. 
Conjectural reconstruction of the 
iconography of the narrative scenes 
on the front. 

central panel, Madonna and Child 
with Saints and Angels (see figs. 

4.2-4. 3). 

FRONT PREDELLA (conjectural), narrative 
scenes from the Infancy of Christ, flanked 
by prophets: 1. Annunciation ; 2. Nativity 
and Annunciation to the Shepherds (see 
fig. 4.4); 3. Adoration of the Magi; 

4. Presentation of Christ in the Temple; 

5. Massacre of the Innocents; 6. Flight 
into Egypt; 7. Christ Disputing with the 
Doctors in the Temple. 

FRONT NARRATIVE PINNACLES, Later Life of 
the Virgin Mary: 49. Annunciation of the 
Death of the Virgin; 50. Arrival of John 
the Evangelist; 51. Farewell of the 
Apostles; 52. Death of the Virgin; 

53. Funeral of the Virgin; 54. 
Entombment of the Virgin; 

55. Assumption and Coronation of the 
Virgin (conjectural, lost; reconstruction 
based on later Sienese version). 

Angel pinnacles (largely lost, but several 
examples survive). 


plunged by midwives into a chalicelike tub, as in Nicola 
Pisano’s Pisa Baptistery pulpit (see fig. 2.20). Some of the 
angels behind the cave look up toward heaven, while 
others bend down; one waves a scroll announcing the 
event to shepherds at the right. The brilliant colors of 
Mary’s cloak and mattress contrast with softer colors, such 
as the rose of Joseph’s cloak. 

In the main front panel of the Maesta as we know it 
today, Sienese saints kneel in the front row; more saints 
and four archangels stand behind them, and four angels 
rest their hands and chins on Mary’s inlaid marble throne 
(figs. 4.5 — 4.6). In the resulting interlace of figures, heads, 
and haloes — all united by the flow of drapery lines, orna- 
mental patterns, and brilliant color — separate elements do 
not stand out as they would in a composition by Giotto. 


( 55 ) 


49 


50 


51 


52 


53 54 


1 


3 


4 


5 6 


7 


I06 * THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 




Left: 4.7. DUCCIO. Maesta . Conjectural 
reconstruction of the back, with predella, 
pinnacles, and framing elements. Digitized 
reconstruction by Lew Minter. 


Right: 4.8. DUCCIO. Maesta . Conjectural reconstruction of 
the iconography of the narrative scenes on the back. 
back predella (conjectural), narrative scenes from the Life of 
Christ: 8. Baptism of Christ (conjectural, lost); 9. First Temptation 
of Christ (conjectural, lost); 10. Temptation of Christ in the 
Temple; 11. Temptation of Christ on the Mountain (see fig. 4.9); 

12. Calling of Peter and Andrew; 13. Marriage Feast at Cana; 

14. Christ and the Woman of Samaria at the Well; 15. Christ Heals 
the Blind Man; 16. Transfiguration; 17. Raising of Lazarus. 

CENTER BACK, LOWER REGISTER, narrative scenes from the Life of 
Christ: 18. Entry into Jerusalem (see fig. 4.10); 19. Last Supper, 

20. Washing of the Feet; 21. Sermon to the Apostles and Judas 
Receiving the Blood Money from the High Priests of the Temple , 
occurring simultaneously; 22. Agony in the Garden; 23. Kiss of 
Judas; 24. Christ Before Annas and First Denial of Peter, occurring 
simultaneously; 25. Christ Before Caiaphas and Second Denial of 
Peter, occurring simultaneously; 26. Mocking of Christ and Third 
Denial of Peter, occurring simultaneously; 27. Christ Before Pilate; 
28. Pilate Declaring Chris fs Innocence to the Pharisees . 

CENTER BACK, upper register, narrative scenes from the Passion 
of Christ: 29. Christ before Herod; 30. Christ in the Robe Before 
Pilate; 31. Flagellation; 32. Mocking of Christ, 33. Pilate Washing 
his Hands; 34. Christ Carrying the Cross; 35. Crucifixion (see fig. 
4.11); 36. Descent from the Cross; 37. Entombment of Christ; 38. 


(48} 


42 

43 

44 


45 

46 

47 

30 

32 

34 

35 

37 

39 

41 

29 

31 

33 


36 

38 

40 

IS 

20 

21 

23 

24 

26 

28 


19 


22 


25 

27 

m 

10 

11 

12 13 

14 

15 

16 , 


Descent into Limbo; 39. Three Marys at the Tomb; 40. Noli Me 
Tangere; 41. Journey to Emmaus. 

BACK PINNACLES, post-resurrection narrative scenes: 42. Christ 
Appears behind Closed Doors; 43. Incredulity of Thomas; 44. 
Apparition to the Apostles at the Sea of Tiberias; 45. Apparition to 
the Apostles on a Mountain in Galilee; 46. Apparition at Supper; 
47. Pentecost; 48. Ascension of Christ (conjectural, lost). 


SIENESE ART OF THE EARLY TRECENTO • IO 7 



4.9. DUCCIO. Temptation of Christ on the Mountain, from the 
back predella of the Maesta (see figs. 4. 7-4. 8). Panel, 17 x 1878" 
(43 x 46 cm). Copyright The Frick Collection, New York. 


Rather, the panel takes on the appearance of a rich and 
splendid fabric. The later life of the Virgin was found on 
the pinnacles, surmounted by bust-length angels (although 
the central pinnacles, on both the front and back, have 
never been found, and their subjects are unknown). The 
panels on the predella at the base illustrated scenes from 
the infancy of Christ. The back of the altarpiece offered a 
series of scenes depicting the Passion of Christ (figs. 
4.7— 4.8). Most parts of Duccio’s altarpiece remain in 
Siena, but some of the predella panels are scattered in 
other collections. A panel from the back predella (fig. 4.9) 
shows how Satan tempted Christ by leading him up a high 
mountain and offering him the kingdoms of the world. 
Duccio represented the kingdoms as Italian city-states with 
walls and gates surrounding public and religious buildings 
with towers, domes, roof tiles, and battlements. The color- 
ful architecture of those in the foreground is picked out 
delicately in light, while the distant cities are darker, as 
if lost in shadow. A sense of vast space is unexpectedly 
created by the cities’ tiny scale. While we may feel that we 
can enter the environments Giotto created for his narra- 
tives (see fig. 3.6), we cannot penetrate the more complex 
world of Duccio’s creation. Duccio’s rocks appear to surge 
and twist, breaking upward toward the figures. On this 
moving ground the figures cannot stand with the firmness 
and decision of Giotto’s people; they maintain an uncertain 
footing, as if walking on waves. In the drapery of Christ in 
this scene, Duccio’s flowing line is transformed into 
straight lines and sharp points that reinforce Christ’s 


gesture and words: “Get thee behind me, Satan” (Luke 
4:8). Duccio’s slender and somewhat sad Christ is utterly 
different from the majestic, forthright Christ of Giotto. 

On the back of the Maesta , Christ’s Passion is told in 
twenty-four scenes, beginning with the Entry into 
Jerusalem (fig. 4.10). The hilltop setting is similar to that 
of Siena itself, and the scene seems to derive from a docu- 
mented Sienese Palm Sunday procession in which the 
bishop led a crowd to one of the city gates to meet an actor 
garbed as Christ. Duccio placed us in a field separated 
from the road by a wall with an open gate, over which 
we watch the procession winding up toward the city gate. 
People climb trees in an orchard on the other side of the 



4.10. DUCCIO. Entry into Jerusalem, from the back of the Maesta 
(see figs. 4.7-4. 8). Panel, 40 Vs x 2178" (102 x 56.5 cm). Museo 
delPOpera del Duomo, Siena. 


I08 * THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 





4.11. DUCCIO. Crucifixion, from the 
back of the Maesta (see figs. 4.7-4.8). 
Panel, 40Vs x 29 7 /s" (102 x 76 cm). 
Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Siena. 


road, as in Byzantine representations of the scene. Some 
onlookers spread their mantles before Christ, following the 
Gospel account. Christ rides a donkey, fulfilling the 
prophecy of Zachariah: “Behold, thy King cometh ... 
lowly, and riding upon an ass” (9:9). The crowd surges out 
of the gate, chattering and gesticulating, while the apostles 
follow Christ. In these two human rivers about to meet we 
experience a crowded medieval city. We look through the 
gate into the main street, where we can see a balcony with 
a head protruding through a window. 

In the Crucifixion (fig. 4.11), on the other hand, Duccio 
revealed his ability to create a scene of mass violence and 
tragedy. All three crosses are shown and, following the 
Gospels, the legs of the thieves have been broken to ease 
their agony, while Christ’s legs were left intact, fulfilling a 


prophecy that “a bone of him shall not be broken” (John 
19:36). The slender crosses soar against the gold back- 
ground, which shimmers with an effect that is airy and 
atmospheric. Duccio distinguished the penitent thief, 
turned toward Christ, from the unremorseful one, shown 
facing away. Below, the crowds are separated into two 
groups. As in the Meditations on the Life of Christ , a text 
written by a Franciscan mystic living in Tuscany about 
1300, Mary swoons below the cross, sinking into the arms 
of the holy women as she looks up toward Christ, from 
whose side blood and water gush in streams. Duccio’s 
mastery of crowds and his ability to project human feeling 
are shown in this scene, with its flashing eyes and gesticu- 
lating hands. Despite all his subtle refinement, Duccio was 
no less dramatic a narrative artist than Giotto. 


SIENESE ART OF THE EARLY TRECENTO * IO9 



Simone Martini 


Like Giotto, Duccio had a number of pupils. Their works 
suggest that he was a liberating teacher, for each pupil 
developed a style independent of the master and of one 
another. One of the most original was Simone Martini 
(active 1315-1344), who most likely worked on Duccio’s 
later commissions, including the Maesta. Shortly after 
Duccio’s Maesta was completed, Simone was commis- 


sioned to paint a Maesta of his own, a large fresco on the 
end wall of the Council Chamber in Siena’s Palazzo Pub- 
blico (figs. 4.12-4.13). From this vantage point, the Virgin 
could watch over the deliberations of the Council of the 
Sienese Republic or, to put it another way, the councillors 
would have the Virgin Mary and saints constantly before 
them to guide their behavior. 

Simone unified the throng of saints and angels under a 
spacious cloth canopy held by saints, similar to the ones 



4.12. Mew of the Council Chamber in the Palazzo Pubblico, Siena (see fig. 1.9). 

This panoramic view of the largest governmental chamber in Siena’s city hall demonstrates how such a room was progressively decorated over 
timt:; Simone's Maesta (fig. 4.13) is only the earliest decoration visible here. The monochromatic frescoes above the arched openings to the left 
w&rv painted in 1363 and 1480 to celebrate Sienese military victories. Frescoed figures of Sienese saints and local holy figures were painted 
between the arches in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, while on the soffits of the arches we see details of the fifteenth-century decoration of 
the adjacent chapel. On the wall opposite Simone’s Maesta was a circular world map ( mappamondo ) painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti; almost 
16 feet across^ it had Siena at its center and could be rotated on a central pivot to bring areas closer to the viewer. 


XIO • THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 


that shelter the Eucharist today when it is carried in pro- 
cession through the streets of Italian towns. Some portions 
of the fresco were painted a secco and have peeled off, 
showing the underdrawing. A document of 1321 reveals 
that Simone “repaired” certain sections of the fresco, 
although a better word might be “updated,” as is sug- 
gested by the different head styles evident in the work. In 
the rear ranks of the Virgin’s attendants some Duccio- 
inspired heads are still to be seen, their eyes almond- 
shaped and their hair covered with mantles. The heads of 
the Virgin and Child and of the two female saints that 
flank them are painted on new patches of plaster and show 
the more Gothic type characteristic of Simone’s later 
works; they have broad, full cheeks, pursed mouths, and 
wavy or curly blond hair. 


Between the two campaigns of work on the Maesta , 
Simone had been invited to Naples by the French king, 
Robert of Anjou. While there he painted a large dynastic 
icon depicting the king kneeling, about to receive the 
crown from his older brother, Louis (fig. 4.14), who was 
canonized in 1317 as St. Louis of Toulouse. Motifs from 
the family’s coat of arms decorate the frame, the back- 
ground, and the garments. The frontal figure of the saint 
had to be shifted to the left to make room for the kneeling 
king. In this highly original composition Simone displayed 
his ingenuity in handling boldly silhouetted areas and in 
creating surface patterns that are even richer and more 
delicate than those of Duccio. The large round brooch 
(known as a morse) that holds together the saint’s cape is 
made of glass decorated with the family arms, executed in 



4.13. SIMONE MARTINI. Maesta. Between 1311 and 1317; repaired 1321. Fresco, 25' x 31 '9" (7.6 x 9.7 m). Council Chamber, Palazzo 
Pubblico, Siena. Commissioned by the Commune of Siena. 

The inscriptions on the steps of the throne urge the use of wisdom and justice, and in one case the Virgin speaks directly to the Sienese public 
and the city's rulers: “The angels’ flowers ... that adorn the heavenly meadow, delight me no more than good counsel....” 

From the beam in front of the Maesta hang two sculpted, polychromed arms, with openings in the hands, suggestive of angels descending from 
heaven. These must have held ropes to support lamps that hung in front of the fresco. The lamps could thus be raised or lowered as needed. 


SIENESE ART OF THE EARLY TRECENTO 


III 


4.14. SIMONE MARTINI. St Louis 
of Toulouse Crowning Robert of Anjou, 
King of Naples, and Scenes from the 
Life of St. Louis of Toulouse, c. 1317. 
Panel with gold and silver leaf, originally 
embellished with gold work and precious 
stones, 6'6 3 /4" x 4'6V4 n (2 x 1.38 m). 
Museo di Capodimonte, Naples. 
Commissioned by Robert of Anjou. 



paint and gold leaf. Attached to the surface of the panel, 
this decoration originally also included precious gems, 
now lost. The richly embossed surface patterns are never 
permitted to compete with the basic element in Simone’s 
mature style — a taut, linear contour, almost as if the shapes 
were cut from sheet metal. 

While the face of St. Louis resembles the standardized 
head type used by Simone in other works, King Robert’s 
features are an early example of the portraiture that will 
become so important during the Early Renaissance. The 


silhouette is perhaps the simplest way to capture an indi- 
vidual, as we have already seen in Giotto’s portrait of 
Enrico Scrovegni (see fig. 3.14). In this case, the contrast 
between the face of the placid, enthroned saint and the 
vigorous, individualized physiognomy of his brother is 
start-ling. Simone clearly fulfilled the need of his royal 
patron to be recognized. 

In his frescoes in the St. Martin Chapel in San Francesco 
in Assisi (fig. 4.15), Simone demonstrated his narrative 
ability, sophisticated use of color, and decorative talents. 


I I 2 * THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 




4.15. SIMONE MARTINI. Fresco cycle. Between 1312 and 1319 (?). St. Martin Chapel, Lower Church of S. Francesco, Assisi. 
Commissioned by Cardinal Gentile Partino da Montefiore dell’Aso. Scenes shown here are: The Mass of St. Martin , The Miracle of Fire, The 
Knighting of St. Martin, St. Martin in the Imperial Camp, and, in the entrance arch, Sts. Mary Magdalen and Catherine of Alexandria. Not 
v isiblc here is the portrait of the donor kneeling before St. Martin on the inner surface of the entrance arch. 


SIENESE ART OF THE EARLY TRECENTO • LL 3 








4.16. SIMONE MARTINI. Dream of St. Martin. Fresco, 8 '8" x 6'7" (2.65 x 2 m). 
St. Martin Chapel, Lower Church of S. Francesco, Assisi. 


In the Dream of St. Martin (fig. 4.16), an aloof and 
princely Christ appears to the saint, who is in a deep sleep 
under a rose and blue plaid silk coverlet heightened by 
gold threads. The simple architecture isolates the sleeping 
saint, while the details of bed hangings and chest add an 
element of authenticity. The expressiveness of the faces is 
typical of Simone’s style. We sense in these frescoes the 
impact of the works of Giotto in the scale of the figures 
relative to the architecture and in the simple way in which 
the narrative is clarified; in Simone’s panel paintings, on 
the other hand, adherence to many of the stylistic princi- 
ples espoused by Duccio is maintained. 


Simone’s Annunciation (fig. 4.17) was painted for Siena 
Cathedral in 1333. He signed it jointly with his brother-in- 
law Lippo Memmi. This signature and the joint payments 
for the work attest to their collaboration, but it is not 
clear what role Lippo played in the execution of the 
artwork. This is the earliest known example in which 
the Annunciation was the subject of an entire altarpiece. 
The gold background is traversed by raised gesso 
(pastiglia) words in beautiful Gothic lettering that stretch 
from Gabriel’s mouth to Mary’s ear: Ave gratia plena 
dominus tecum , “Hail, thou that art highly favored, 
the Lord is with thee” (Luke 1:28). The elaborate frame 


r i 4 


THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 





4.17. SIMONE MARTINI and LIPPO MEM MI. Annunciation with Two Saints. 1333. Panel, 10' x 8 '9" (3 x 2.67 m). Uffizi Gallery, 
Florence. Commissioned by the Opera del Duomo for the Cathedral of Siena. 

An analysis of prices, undertaken by the scholar Hayden Maginnis, has revealed that the cost of this altarpiece was about equal to that 
Of a fine house. 


IS not original, and the different floor design and 
angle of view between side panels and center suggest 
that the saints were not originally placed flanking 
the Annunciation . 

As in Giotto’s fresco (see figs. 3. 8-3. 9) the heavenly mes- 
senger kneels, but here the breathless suddenness of his 
arrival is indicated by the cloak that floats behind him. The 
i lrgin shrinks back sharply at the news, following the 
Gospel account that she was disturbed by the angel’s 
appearance and salutation. The violence of her movement 
increases the explosive immediacy of the scene. The sharp, 
cant curves of her body contrast with the more three- 


dimensional figure of the angel, who is crowned with olive 
leaves and holds an olive branch, symbol of peace. In the 
center of the richly veined marble floor is a vase of lilies, 
symbol of Mary’s purity! The lilies, the olive leaves, the 
curves of the drapery, and even the features of Mary and 
Gabriel display the same sharp, metallic quality seen in 
Simone’s St. Louis of Toulouse, Mary’s suspicion, 
conveyed broadly in her pose, is accentuated by the sharp 
lines of her furrowed brow and pursed lips. Glittering 
sunburst shapes incised in the gold background burst 
out around the tooled haloes, adding to the bristling 
tension of the scene. 


SIENESE ART OF THE EARLY TRECENTO • I Iy' 



4.18. SIMONE MARTINI. The Blessed Agostino Novello and 
Four of bis Miracles, c. 1324. Panel, 6'6" x 8'5" (2 x 2.7 m). 
Pinacoteca, Siena. 


Simone revealed his skill as a narrator in the altarpiece 
representing the Blessed Agostino Novello with scenes of 
his miracles (fig. 4.18). That the altarpiece should follow 
the pattern of Bonaventura Berlinghieri’s St. Francis (see 
fig. 2.6) and other Duecento images may have been 
requested by the unknown patron, but Simone trans- 
formed the stiff pose of his prototypes into a gently 
swaying one. Agostino is seen among the trees of a forest, 
seemingly lost in meditation, while an angel whispers in his 
ear. The stubble on the monk’s face is a realistic detail rare 
at this time, while the book he holds may be symbolic of 
the legal learning for which Novello, briefly prior general 
of the Augustinian Order, was respected. The lateral scenes 
represent posthumous miraculous appearances, in which 
he heals a boy attacked by a wolf (top left) and restores to 
life a traveler thrown from his horse (top right) and a baby 
fallen from a broken hammock (lower right). In the lower 
left scene, Novello grabs a board dislodged from a balcony 
and then revives a child who has fallen. Wood-grained 


4.19. SIMONE MARTINI. Way to Calvary, c. 1340-44. Panel, 
9 7 /s x 6 3 / 4 " (25 x 17 cm). The Louvre, Paris. Originally part of a 
small folding devotional work commissioned by an Orsini cardinal. 



Il6 • THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 



balconies, nail-studded doors, and views into staircase 
halls recapture the Siena of Simone’s day. Agostino Novella 
was beatified but never achieved sainthood; perhaps this 
altarpiece, with its four miracles, was part of an effort to 
convince the authorities that he deserved canonization. 

Simone’s last years were spent in Avignon, a Provencal 
city then the seat of the papacy. His followers left a number 
of works from this period, but only a few by Simone 
remain, including a series of panels from a folding devo- 
tional work representing the Passion. The most dramatic 
of these panels is the Way to Calvary (fig. 4.19). In this tiny 
work painted in France, where we might expect a renewed 
influence of the French Gothic style, Simone’s elegance is 
replaced by an interest in immediate and even violent 
action. Christ, led forth from a very Sienese Jerusalem, is 


almost overwhelmed by the mob, which includes loving 
friends, grieving apostles, and mocking Romans and 
Hebrews, as well as two irreverent children. To support 
this new interest in passionate drama, Simone’s delicate 
color has given way to a fierce brilliance centering on the 
scarlet robe of Christ. The small scale of the panel gives the 
scene a special immediacy. Perhaps the emphasis on drama 
here can be related to the devotional practices of the 
patron, a still-unidentified Orsini cardinal. 

The dramatic intensity seen in Simone’s later work 
had an impact on his followers, as is evident in the New 
Testament cycle painted on the right side-aisle wall of the 
church known as the Collegiata in San Gimignano, a hill 
town near Siena (fig. 4.20; the cycle is paired with an 
unusual cycle of scenes drawn from the Old Testament on 



4.20. View of the side aisle wall of the Collegiate Church, San Gimignano, with New Testament frescoes by the workshop or followers of 
SIMONE MARTINI. 1330s or 1340s. The Pact of Judas (see fig. 4.21) is visible far right; The Betrayal (see fig. 4.22) is partially visible to 
the left of the first column. The frescoes of the New Testament cycle here were attributed by Vasari to Barna da Siena, but current opinion 
finds the hands of three or four distinct painters working on the cycle as collaborators. 


\RT OF THE EARLY TRECENTO * 11 7 




the Collegiata’s left side-aisle wall). Among the scenes is a 
frightening representation of The Pact of Judas (fig. 4.21), 
showing the moment when the high priests give Judas 
thirty pieces of silver to betray Christ. While the composi- 
tion recalls earlier renderings of this subject, including that 
on Duccio's Maesta , here the incident is converted into a 
transaction between sinister characters drawn together so 
that their heads form a human arch. The perspective of the 
architecture seems to pull us into the scene, suggesting our 
guilty complicity in the betrayal. 

In all the Passion scenes Christ is alone, but never more 
so than in The Betrayal (fig. 4.22). Peter’s attack on 
Malchus, when he cuts off the servant’s ear, fills one-third 
of the scene. The artist represented the cowardice of the 
other apostles, who leave Christ to his fate. Even St. John 
gathers his cloak about him and darts a look of terror over 
his shoulder as he hurries away. Christ seems to have been 
abandoned to an avalanche of steel. His quiet face resists 
Judas’ glare even as he is cut off from the rest of the world. 
Although the derivation from Simone is evident, this 
painter, or group of painters, offers an individualized and 
pessimistic view of human behavior that is unforgettable. 


4.21. Workshop or followers of SIMONE 
MARTINI. The Pact of Judas. 1330s or 1340s. 
Fresco, 8'6" x 7'9" (2.6 x 2.4 m). Collegiate 
Church, San Gimignano. 


4.22. Workshop or followers of SIMONE 
MARTINI. The Betrayal. 1330s or 1340s. 
Fresco, 8'6" x 7'9" (2.6 x 2.4 m). Collegiate 
Church, San Gimignano. 



i i 8 


THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 




Pietro Lorenzetti 

Simone’s chief competitors in Siena were the brothers 
Pietro (c. 1290-1348?) and Ambrogio (d. 1348?) Loren- 
zetti. That two brothers would be successful painters 
might seem contrary to the modern notion of the artist as 
an individual genius, but in Siena and elsewhere during 
the later Middle Ages and the Renaissance a trade would 
often be practiced by families who would pass their 
workshop, tools, and expertise down to their children 
and grandchildren. 


The style of the Lorenzetti brothers dominated Sienese 
painting after Simone’s departure for France. Although the 
brothers almost always worked and signed their paintings 
independently, they show an affinity of style that is distinct 
from both the lingering Byzantinizing of the Duccio School 
and the Francophile elegance of Simone. Pietro’s earliest 
known work, the polyptych still on the high altar of a 
Romanesque church in Arezzo (fig. 4.23), reveals a mature 
artist. In the central panel, the Christ Child looks upward 
at his mother with a happy gaze that is answered by a look 
of foreboding, typical of the intensity that characterizes 



4.23. PIETRO LORENZETTI. Madonna and Child with Saints , Annunciation , and Assumption. 1320. Panel, 9 , 9 1 /i " x 10'lV2" 

(3 x 3.1 m). i! Pieve di Sta. Maria, Arezzo. Commissioned by Bishop Guido Tarlati. 

The contract for the altarpiece stated that Pietro could undertake no other work until he had completed this, and that he would be paid in thirds, 
at the beginning, middle, and end. The altarpiece was reduced in size at a later date; some of the panels were trimmed and the predella removed. 


SIENESE ART OF THE EARLY TRECENTO 


II 9 



4.24. View of the Lower Church of S. Francesco, Assisi. Frescoes, largely 1320s-30s. 

This panoramic view was taken from the apse area looking back toward the nave. To either side we see two scenes of the Crucifixion (the one 
on the left by the school of Giotto, the one on the right by Pietro Lorenzetti), w r hich match the paired Crucifixion scenes by Cimabuc in the 
Upper Church directly above; one of these is illustrated in fig. 2.13. A portion of Pietro’s Descent from the Cross (see fig. 4.25) is visible to the 
far right. Also by Cimabuc here is the fresco of the Madonna and Child with Angels and St. Francis seen to the left of the nave (c. 1288-92). 
This w r as later surrounded by the school of Giotto frescoes. The frescoes in the cross vault over the high altar represent allegories of the 
Franciscan virtues of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience, and St. Francis in Glory; these are by a follower of Giotto. The entrance to the tomb 
of St. Francis is in the nave of the lower church. 


Pietro's art. The saints in the lateral panels turn toward 
each other as if in conversation even as they look out ques- 
tion mgly toward the observer. Pietro must have visited 
Florence, for the Gothicism and humanity of his art, not to 
mention tire clear-cut features, strong hands, and ample 


proportions of his figures, reveal a knowledge of the art of 
Giotto and his followers. Compared with the monumental 
figures in the Giottesque tradition though, Pietro’s figures 
are less massive. And, in contrast to the works of Giotto, 
there is an emphasis on the richness of patterned fabrics: 


12 0 * 


THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 




the Virgin, for example, wears a tunic and cloak of white 
patterned silk, the cloak lined with ermine. 

The extent of Pietro’s participation in the Passion cycle 
in the Lower Church of San Francesco at Assisi, as well as 
the date of the series, remains in doubt. His authorship of 
the Descent from the Cross (figs. 4.24^.25), however, is 
beyond question, as is revealed by its dramatic power and 
bold originality of composition. To accommodate the 
scene in the limited field available, the upper bar of the 
cross is truncated, leaving the long horizontal of the cross- 


bar against a background that, on the right, is expressively 
vacant. The gaunt body of Christ, the effects of rigor 
mortis indicated in its harsh lines and angles, is lowered by 
his friends. Joseph of Arimathea holds the torso while St. 
John embraces the legs, pressing his cheek to one thigh. 
Nicodemus, holding an immense pair of tongs, attempts to 
withdraw the spike from one pierced foot while Mary 
Magdalen prostrates herself to kiss the other. Mary, the 
wife of Clopas, holds Christ’s right hand, and the Virgin 
presses his head to her cheek in a way that unites the two 


4.25. PIETRO LORENZETTI 
and assistants. Frescoes of the 
Descent into Limbo (partial view) 
and Descent from the Cross. 
1320s-30s. Width at base 12 , 4" 
(3.76 m). Lower Church of 
S. Francesco, Assisi. 

That Pietro worked quickly is 
revealed by the giomate; the eight 
figures of the Descent from the 
Cross shown here, for example, 
were painted in only six days. 



SIENESE ART OF THE EARLY TRECENTO * 121 





4.26. PIETRO LORENZETTI. Birth of the Virgin. 1335-42. 
Panel, S'lVi" x 5 TIV 2 " (1.87 x 1.82 m). Museo delPOpera del 
Duomo, Siena. Commissioned by the Opera del Duomo for the 
Cathedral of Siena. The documented pair of saints that flanked 
this altarpiece is lost. 


heads, one right side up, the other upside down. The broad, 
columnar masses of the figures reflect the impact of Giotto’s 
style; as usual with the Sienese painters, the Florentine 
painter’s influence is more readily seen in their frescoes. 

In 1342 Pietro completed the Birth of the Virgin (fig. 
4.26) as his contribution to the cycle of altarpieces devoted 
to narrative scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary for the 
Cathedral of Siena. This triptych, perhaps in competition 
with one by his brother Ambrogio (see fig. 4.28), estab- 
lished a new standard in the definition of space. The archi- 
tectural elements of the frame serve as the most forward 
elements of the painted architecture within the image. The 
Italian policy of removing all later interventions and 
restorations has left us with no outer edges, no pinnacles, 
and no colonnettes to support the arches, which somewhat 
diminishes the effect of spatiality. Nevertheless, this aston- 
ishing bit of illusion creates the feeling that we could enter 
the room where St. Anne lies on her bed with its checkered 
Sienese spread as her baby is bathed and neighbors arrive 
bearing gifts. One woman holds a striped fan to cool St. 
Anne (the Virgin’s birthday was traditionally celebrated on 
September 8, still the hot season in Tuscany). In the 
antechamber on the left, St. Joachim receives the good 
news. Behind him we look into a space that might belong 
to some ecclesiastical building — a towering Gothic struc- 
ture of at least three stories, the upper one cut off by the 
vault of the antechamber. This tall structure must be a 
reference to the temple in which Mary would be presented 
three years later. 


Pietro’s triptych is the first of a series of Italian paintings 
that presents the illusionistic space of the picture as an 
inward extension of the frame (for a much later example, 
see fig. 15.41). In his perspective formulation, Pietro at 
times came close to the one-point perspective system that 
ruled pictorial art during the Quattrocento. Analysis 
shows, however, that the floors in the side panels have sep- 
arate vanishing points that do not correspond to the one 
used for the vaults. Nonetheless, the works of the Sienese 
Trecento painters reveal an interest in exploring how space 
can be rationally analyzed and represented — an investiga- 
tion that will culminate in the following century. 

Ambrogio Lorenzetti 

Ambrogio Lorenzetti, like his brother, demonstrates the 
impact of Florentine art. He seems to have visited Florence 
on at least two occasions: in 1319, when he painted a 
Madonna for a church outside Florence, and in 1332-34, 
when he painted a polyptych for the Church of San 
Procolo. During the later visit he joined the Florentine 
branch of the Arte dei Medici e Speziali, possibly because 
Florence was part of a “foreign” state and guild member- 
ship was required to work there. 

In 1342, both Pietro and Ambrogio completed altar- 
pieces for the narrative series on the life of the Virgin for 
the Sienese Duomo. Ambrogio’s Presentation in the 
Temple (fig. 4.27) is even more revolutionary than that of 
Pietro’s Birth of the Virgin ; space is here penetrated in a 


122 * THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 



4,27. AMBROGIO L.ORENZKTTL Presentation in the Temple. 1342. Panel* x 5*6 Vft" (2,6 x 1,7 m), Uffizi Gallery, Florence. 

Commissioned by the Opera del Duomo for the Cathedral of Siena. The documented pair of saints that flanked this altarpiece is lost. 


SIENESE ART OF THE EARLY TRECENTO * r 2 3 


manner unprecedented since Roman antiquity. The Gothic 
frame establishes a lofty gateway, through which we 
glimpse an interior where the light is dimmed by a stained- 
glass window. While Ambrogio maintained the double 
scale of medieval art — one size for figures, another for 
setting — here he reduced the figures so as to make the 
architecture somewhat more credible. Slender columns 
uphold the vaults, which are decorated with gold stars. 
Behind the altar we look into the dimness of the sanctuary, 
with its marble columns and gilded capitals, and, for 
perhaps the first time in any Italian painting, we sense the 
immensity of a cathedral interior. 

The architecture is a strange amalgam of Romanesque 
and Gothic. In the late Middle Ages, Romanesque archi- 
tecture was considered to be of Eastern origin, so that 
the Temple in Jerusalem was generally represented with 


Romanesque round arches rather than Gothic pointed 
ones. Also, the polygonal building we see in the back- 
grounds of such Trecento paintings as Duccio’s Entry into 
Jerusalem (see fig. 4.10), which is always intended to rep- 
resent the Temple, is based on descriptions of the Dome of 
the Rock brought back by crusaders. In Ambrogio’s 
picture, we see beyond the facade to a polygonal dome 
with Gothic windows. 

Ambrogio has precisely illustrated the Gospel text (Luke 
2:22-38), which includes a reference to the offering of two 
turtle doves, seen here on the altar. The aged Simeon, who 
had been told that he would not die until he had seen the 
Messiah, holds the Christ Child and murmurs the words of 
the Nunc Dimittis : “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant 
depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have 
seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the 



4.28. AMBROGIO LORENZETTI. Allegory of Good Government: Effects of Good Government in the City and the Country (portion). 
1338-39. Fresco; size of the room, approx. 46' X 25'3" (14 x 7.7 m). Sala delJa Pace (Room of Peace), Palazzo Pubblico, Siena. Presumably 
commissioned by the Commune of Siena. This room is also sometimes called the Sala dei Nove (Room of the Nine) because this was the 
council room for the Nine. 


124 • THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 


face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the 
glory of thy people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32). 

At the left stand Joseph, Mary, and two attendants; on 
the right the eighty-four-year-old prophetess Anna holds a 
scroll with the last verse of the passage from St. Luke: 
“And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto 
the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for 
redemption in Jerusalem.” Ambrogio depicted differences 
in age and feelings, from the Christ Child blissfully sucking 
his thumb and the gentle pride of his mother to the 
wrinkled age of the prophetess Anna and the weariness of 
Simeon, who will now be released from the burden 
of life. The artist’s interest in representing the details of 
everyday life encompasses even the gold-filigree earrings 
worn by the Virgin Mary, who has, perhaps surprisingly, 
pierced ears. No examples of such earrings survive; only 
Ambrogio’s interest in the artifacts of daily life document 
their appearance. 

Ambrogio’s most revolutionary achievement — one of 
the most remarkable accomplishments of the period — is 
the fresco series that lines three walls of the room in the 
Palazzo Pubblico where Siena’s chief magistrates, the Nine, 
held their meetings (fig. 4.28). Ambrogio’s task was 


unprecedented, for he was apparently called upon to paint 
allegorical depictions of good and bad government — 
subjects of intense significance to medieval Italian 
communes — and to represent the effects such regimes 
would have in both town and country. The result is the 
first panoramic city and countryscape since antiquity, and 
the first expansive portrait of an actual city and landscape. 
Today, the cycle is usually identified as Good and Bad 
Government , but in 1427 St. Bernardino of Siena referred 
to it as War and Peace , perhaps in part because of its loca- 
tion in the Sala della Pace (Room of Peace). Ambrogio 
chose the best-illuminated walls for Good Government 
and its effects, leaving Bad Government in the shadows 
on a wall that has suffered considerable damage; the 
difference in condition suggests that perhaps Bad Govern- 
ment was attacked by individuals because of its subject. 

The compositions flow in a relaxed manner, without set 
geometric relationships, much like the irregular city plan of 
Siena itself (see Map IV, p. 15). On one wall Ambrogio 
enthroned the majestic figure of the Commune of Siena, 
who holds the orb and scepter and is dressed in the com- 
munal colors of black and white. He is guided by Faith, 
Hope, and Charity, who soar above him (fig. 4.29). 



4.29. AMBROGIO LORENZETTI. Allegory of Good Government (see fig. 4.28). 


SIENESE ART OF THE EARLY TRECENTO • 125 




On either side other virtues, chosen for their civic signifi- 
cance, sit or lounge on a decorated bench. To the left, 
Justice, above whose head floats Wisdom, dispenses 
rewards and punishments through the two winged figures 
of Commutative Justice, shown giving arms to a noble and 
money to a merchant, and Distributive Justice, who 
crowns a kneeling figure with her left hand as she lops off 
the head of another with her right. Below the throne of 
Justice, a figure representing Concord presides over the 
twenty-four magistrates of the Sienese Republic, one of 
whom grips a cord that extends from Justice and Concord 
back to the scepter held by the personification of the 
Commune; in this physical way the local governors are 
united to the virtues that should guide them. The reclining 
figure of Peace is taken from a Roman sarcophagus frag- 
ment still in Siena, but Ambrogio’s reinterpretation of 
ancient pleated drapery is so medieval in style that one 
would hardly suspect a classical prototype if the original 
had not survived. Peace reclines on armor, indicating that 
she has overcome wan 

The amazing panorama of Good Government in the 
City and the Country (fig. 4.30) is a delightful continuous 


vista. We are taken through the streets, alleys, and squares 
of Siena (much as it stands today), over the city walls, and 
out into the Tuscan countryside. To show us as much as 
possible, Ambrogio, still a medieval painter, constantly 
shifted his viewpoint. His world encompasses buildings, 
people, trees, hills, farms, waterways, bridges, animals, 
and birds. 

In some areas, Ambrogio was almost able to abandon 
the medieval double scale discussed previously (see p. 80). 
Most of the buildings are still small in relation to the 
people, however, for if Ambrogio had painted the people 
and animals throughout in scale to the architecture, they 
would hardly have been visible in so vast a worldscape. He 
boldly represented what seems to be the entire city of 
Siena, even showing us beams outside windows for 
hanging clothing or providing leverage to haul things up 
from the street. He included people conversing, entering 
houses, or cut off from our view as they pass behind build- 
ings. Through the arches of the building in the foreground, 
we can enter a shop displaying shoes and hosiery, a school, 
and a tavern with flasks of wine on an outdoor bar. We 
also see a house in the process of construction; the 


126 * THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 







4 . 30 . AMBROGIO LORENZETTI. Allegoiy of Good Government in the City and the Country (see fig. 4.28). 


workmen, standing on scaffolding they had probably put 
i place the day before, are carrying building materials in 
baskets on their heads and laying new courses of masonry. 
V young woman plays a tambourine and sings while her 
elegantly dressed companions dance in the street. Farmers 
arn^e from the prosperous countryside leading donkeys, 
driving herds of sheep, and carrying produce in baskets on 
dieir heads. All have come through a city gate — probably 
rhe recently completed Porta Romana. The city wall 
.gzags from the lower border to the gate, which is sur- 
mounted by a representation of the wolf with Romulus 
and Remus, a Sienese symbol still found throughout the 
city. Its presence is based on the citizens’ belief that Siena 
was founded by — and named for — Sen us, a son of Remus. 

The pastoral section is equally daring. Ambrogio seems 
tc> have included Sienese territory as far as the sea at Tala- 
BftOne, Siena’s new port, in order to display the prosperity 
■r the republic. Vines are tended while grain is harvested 
isnd threshed. As the peasants, conversing happily, bring 
thear produce and their animals (including a black-and- 
white hog, a felicitous reference to Siena’s coat of arms) up 
the incline into the city, men and women descend into the 


country to go hawking. These aristocrats indulge in this 
sport only where the fields have already been harvested, so 
as not to damage the crops. 

Presiding over these activities is the figure of Securitas in 
revealing classicizing garb (fig. 4.31). She holds a gallows 
and a scroll: “Without fear, let each man fireelv walk, and 
working let everyone sow, while such a commune this 
personage will keep under her rule because she has 
removed all power from the guilty.” Her hideous counter- 
part on the opposite wall is Fear, who can be banished only 
by Good Government. 

Our eyes follow the vista over hill after towered hill, 
farm after farm, the spectacle terminating against the 
traditional unmodulated blue of the wall itself at the 
horizon (the first sky with clouds did not appear in Italian 
painting until the 1420s; see figs. 8.4, 8.9). Ambrogio’s 
landscape is, during the summer months, strikingly similar 
to the vista visible outside the window of the Sala della 
Pace. As the landscape recedes, Ambrogio represented 
details of plants and stubble with a few sketchy strokes, a 
kind of shorthand that was not more fully explored until 
the Quattrocento. 


i 


SIENESE ART OF THE EARLY TRECENTO 


12 / 




4.31. Securitas and Sienese landscape; detail of fig. 4.30. 


Orvieto Cathedral 

The vast cathedral erected in Orvieto beginning in 1290 
(fig. 4.32) was intended to enshrine an important relic, the 
bloodstained cloth from the miracle at Bolsena (for the 
story of this miracle, which was later represented in a 
fresco by Raphael, see fig. 17.52). In 1263 this relic was 
transferred to Orvieto, where it was presented to Pope 
Urban IV. In the following year he proclaimed the Feast of 
Corpus Christi from this Umbrian hill town. 

The cornerstone of the cathedral was laid in 1290, but 
the facade as we see it today, with its carved marble panels, 


bronze sculptures, and mosaics, seems largely to have been 
the conception of the Sienese architect and sculptor 
Lorenzo Maitani, who was named capomaestro in 1310; a 
drawing of the design has been attributed to him. He is 
generally also credited with the impressive bronze figures 
of the Madonna and Child, angels, and symbols of the 
Evangelists in Gothic style above the doors, and for much 
of the finest carving on panels flanking the portals. We 
know little about Maitani except for the dates of his 
marriage in 1302 and death in 1330. 

The bloody cloth that was to be the focus for worship in 
Orvieto was enshrined in a magnificent two-sided 


128 • THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 




nft*, ir» 


iffiasros! 


mmm. 




j|ftiliiii**fg 


3 


^*wS3? 


4.32. LORENZO MAITANI. Orvieto Cathedral, facade. 1310-1456. Stone, bronze sculpture, and mosaics; each of the still unfinished stone 
reliefs flanking the doors is more than 30' (9 m) high. 

Early documents state that the cathedral should be modeled on the Early Christian Basilica of Sta. Maria Maggiore in Rome, which may 
explain the mosaics that decorate the upper parts of the facade. A surviving drawing for the facade and extensive documentation support the 
attribution of the facade design and much of the sculpture to Maitani, as head of what must have been a large workshop between 1310 and 
1330. The decision to build a new cathedral had been made in 1284 and the foundation stone was laid in 1290 but the facade design as we 
see it today dates from after Maitani became capomaestro in 1310; the lower part was complete by 1330 but some of the upper areas were not 
completed until the mid-fifteenth century, and the mosaics have been restored many times. The bronze doors were added in the twentieth century. 


SIENESE ART OF THE EARLY TRECENTO * I 29 



4.33. UGOLINO DI VERIO 
and collaborators. Reliquary of 
the Santo Corporale. 1337-38. 
Translucent enamel on silver with 
gilded silver statuettes; height 4'7" 
(1.4 m). Cathedral, Orvieto. 

Here we show the back of the 
reliquary because the scenes are in 
better condition than those on the 
front, which have lost some of 
their enamel color. The front and 
back are virtually identical, except 
here we see the back of the 
Crucifix at the apex, and the 
backs of the angels and other 
figures on the pinnacles. 
Commissioned by Bishop Tramo 
Monaldeschi and the Canons of 
Orvieto Cathedral, the total cost 
was 1,374V2 gold florins. 


reliquary with a gabled shape intended as a reference to the 
facade of the cathedral, thereby creating an identification 
between the two (fig. 4.33). The reliquary is adorned with 
scenes from the miracle of Bolsena and the life of Christ in 
colorful enamel. The artists are identified on the inscrip- 
tion as the Sienese goldsmith Ugolino di Verio (died c. 
1380-85) and several unnamed collaborators. The relic 
could be removed, and since 1338 both relic and its con- 
tainer have been carried in procession through Orvieto on 
the feast day of Corpus Christi. For the scenes from the life 
of Christ, Ugolino followed the representations on Duccio’s 
Maesta\ for the new scenes representing the miracle at 
Bolsena, Ugolino drew inspiration from compositions by 


Ambrogio Lorenzetti. Perhaps such stylistic connections 
were requested by the patrons, or they may indicate 
Ugolino’s respect for the traditions of his native Siena. The 
sumptuous and colorful materials of both reliquary and 
cathedral facade are an important indication of Gothic taste. 

One of the cathedral documents reveals that Maitani’s 
responsibilities included the “wall figured with beauty, 
which wall must be made on the front part,” a reference to 
the reliefs flanking the doors on the facade. The leading 
position he holds in the documents has caused him to be 
identified with the most gifted of the sculptors at work on 
the panels. The reliefs represent the story of Adam and Eve 
(figs. 4.34 — 4.35 ), the life of Christ, the Tree of Jesse, and 


13 O * THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 



4.34. LORENZO MAITANI. Scenes from Genesis, c. 1310— before 1316. Marble, m Orvicto Cathedral facade. 


SIENESE ART OF THE EARLY TRECENTO • 13 I 



4.35. LORENZO MATTANI. Creation of the Birds and Fishes, detail oi Scenes from Genesis (see fig. 4.34), 


the Last Judgment (fig. 4,36). The first and last reliefs 
display the vision of an artist who could create imaged of 
exquisite poetry or utmost horror. Maitam and his collab- 
orators dispensed with t h e e u s t o m a ry fi: a m e f o r s uch r el i e f s 
and composed the scenes in horizontal strips with closely 
packed figures. In contrast to fresco, the work proceeded 
from the bottom up. In the second row a change occurs: in 
the center of each relief sprouts a huge vine, its tendrils 
forming frames for the scenes. In the two central panels the 
vine .is an acanthus, as in Roman medieval apse mosaics, 
and the scrolls curl tightly. The branches of the vines in the 
right and left panels are more widely separated, leaving 
airy spaces above and around the figures. On the left, the 
vine is ivy; on the right it is a grapevine, recalling the 
miracle of Bo I sen a celebrated at this cathedral. 

The Creation scenes are imaginative. In the lower left 
corner, God moves with grace across the primal rocks. 


calling the fish to life in swirls of marble water and the 
birds to attention in miniature forests (see fig. 4.35). 
Maitani — if indeed this was he — took a tremendous step in 
a direction not to be fully exploited until Donatello and 
Ghiberti (see figs. 7, 14, 10.14): by lowering the projection 
of distant figures and birds to a fraction of an inch above 
the background clcmeuts 3 in contrast to the almost free- 
standing, heavily undercut foreground figures, he was able 
to suggest effects of distance within the limited field of 
relief sculpture. 

The airy movements and diaphanous mantle of God the 
Creator moving among his works, hardly prepare us for 
the shock of Madam's view of hell. Here, barely above eve 
level (see fig. 4.36), the tormented figure of one of the 
damned hangs by his arm from the jaws of a demon. This 
dramatic imagery and expressive power characterize the 
best of Trecento art. 


X 3 2 


THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 



4.36. LORENZO MAITANI. Detail of the Damned in Hell from the Last Judgment, c. 1310-30. Marble, m Orvieto Cathedral facade. 


SIENESE ART OF THE EARLY TRECENTO * 


I 





The Master of the Triumph 
of Death 

Another work to be discussed at this point, even if its 
author may not be Sienese, is the panoramic series of fres- 
coes on the theme of the Last Judgment and the Triumph 
of Death in the Camposanto in Pisa (fig. 4.37). In earlier 
scholarship, these works were dated after the outbreak of 
the plague in 1348, but more recent scholarship has 
demonstrated that they are from the 1330s. The anony- 
mous artist, known as the Master of the Triumph of Death 
after the most memorable of these frescoes, reveals an 
understanding of both Florentine and Sienese innovations 
of the period. 

The enclosed cemetery next to Pisa Cathedral is known 
as the Camposanto (holy field) because it contained earth 
brought from the Holy Land. The walls of the inner court- 


yard were once frescoed with vast panoramas from the Old 
and New Testament, the lives of saints, and sacred history, 
most of which were lost when an incendiary bomb burned 
the roof during World War II. One fortunate survivor was 
the cycle by the Master of the Triumph of Death. When 
these frescoes were detached for preservation, their sinopie 
were discovered. 

The Three Living and the Three Dead are found at the 
far left. While hunting, three splendidly dressed noblemen, 
accompanied by friends and attendants, come upon three 
open coffins, each occupied by a corpse; one is still 
bloated, the next half-rotted, the third reduced to a skele- 
ton. Worms and serpents play over all three. One of the 
noblemen holds his nose at the stench, while horses and 
hunting dogs draw back in disgust. No obscure text is 
needed to explain the meaning of this scene, while its 
placement in a cemetery adds to its immediate impact. The 
same point is made again near the mid-point of the long 


134 * THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 



4.37. MASTER OF THE TRIUMPH OF DEATH. The Three Living and the Three Dead , The Triumph of Death, The Last Judgment, and 
Hell. 1330s(?). Fresco, 18 '6" x 49’2" (5.6 x 15 m). Camposanto, Pisa. 

The black and white photograph reproduced here was taken before the frescoes were damaged during World War II and subsequently detached 
from the wall. 


wall, where young men and women sit in a garden playing 
music and caressing pets and each other, oblivious to the 
approach of Death, a terrifying white-haired hag who flies 
toward them on bat wings brandishing the huge scythe 
with which she will cut them down. 

In the center of this left section is a heap of Death’s most 
recent victims, all of whom are richly dressed, while above 
them demons carry off their souls or angels protect them. 
The soul of one monk is in dispute, for it is being pulled in 
opposite directions by an angel and a demon. Perhaps the 
most poignant detail is the pathetic band of cripples next 
to the pile of corpses, who hold a scroll on which they beg 
Death to take them instead of the pleasure-seekers to the 


right. The possibility of escape from Death is offered in the 
scene above the coffins, where hermits read, work, and 
contemplate, fed by milk furnished by a neighboring doe. 

In the Last Judgment , Christ and Mary are side-by-side 
in twin mandorlas. While Christ uses his left hand to 
display the wound in his side, Mary shrinks back in fear. A 
tempest of emotion seems to sweep through both the 
damned, who are being expelled by archangels armed with 
huge swords, and the blessed. The dead arise from square 
tombs while an expansive representation of hell to the 
right completes the program. The fresco as a whole 
reminds us of how art functioned in a culture and society 
distinctly different from our own. 


SIENESE ART OF THE EARLY TRECENTO * I 35 







afs®5 



5 F W WK 

i 1 y. 





5 

LATER GOTHIC ART IN TUSCANY 

AND NORTHERN ITALY 


I n the first half of the Trecento, the artists of Flo- 
rence and Siena, especially the painters, created a 
revolutionary form of art. Their discoveries antic- 
ipated the Renaissance; the works of Giotto, 
Nicola and Giovanni Pisano, and Ambrogio 
Lorenzetti established a foundation for the Early Renais- 
sance, as seen in the works of Donatello, Ghiberti, and 
Masaccio that we will turn to shortly. Yet the history of 
art, like that of humanity itself, does not follow a single 
development and is seldom predictable. In some ways, the 
art of the second half of the Trecento seems to have little 
to do with the Renaissance that followed, and thus it is 
sometimes passed over in a few perfunctory phrases. 
Nonetheless, during this period artists produced works of 
striking originality and expressive depth. 

In Florence and Siena, the 1330s and 1340s were marred 
by a series of escalating calamities. In Florence a flood in 
1333, exceeded in height only by that of 1966, struck the 
city with such violence that it tore down 600 feet of city 
walls and towers along the Arno and brought havoc to 
commerce, buildings, and, doubtless, works of art. Costly 
and frustrating military activities and a succession of polit- 
ical and economic crises were followed in the mid-1340s 
by the failures of the Peruzzi and Bardi banks, chiefly due 
to the bankruptcy of their English branches, which had 
become involved in the military adventures of King 
Edward III. Soon every major banking house in Florence 


and Siena went bankrupt, with serious consequences for 
economic and cultural life. A brief experiment with dicta- 
torship under an outsider known as the Duke of Athens in 
1342—43 did little to help, and agricultural disasters during 
1346 and 1347 brought widespread famine. 

The weakened and demoralized populations of Florence 
and Siena were in no position to resist when the bubonic 
plague — the so-called black death, which had already 
attacked in 1340 — struck again in 1348 with dire intensity. 
The mortality estimates range from 40 to 75 or even 
80 percent in both cities — all during one hot, terrible 
summer. Chronicles written by the survivors present a 
picture of streets piled high with rotting corpses, economic 
stasis, runaway inflation, and general terror. The work- 
force was decimated, and the effects on every aspect of life 
were devastating. 

Artists suffered like everyone else. Bernardo Daddi, 
Andrea Pisano, and probably Pietro and Ambrogio Loren- 
zetti died in the plague. In Florence only Taddeo Gaddi 
survived to carry the tradition of Giotto into the second 
half of the century. The demand for works of art seems 
also to have changed; in the wave of guilt and self-blame 
that follows catastrophe, religion offered both an explana- 
tion, in terms of divine wrath, and the consolation of the 
belief in eternal life. The new style that developed at this 
time has been interpreted in a variety of ways. One reading 
is that in some works there was a turn toward the 


Opposite: 5.1. ANDREA DA FIRENZE. Triumph of the Church (below) and the Navicella (above), c. 1366-68. Fresco, width of wall 31 ’6" 
(9.6 m). Chapter House, Sta. Maria Novella, Florence. 

Building and decoration commissioned by Mico di Lapo Guidalotti, a rich merchant and high public official whose brother Branca provided 200 
florins of the total cost of 700 florins. They were permitted to use the chapel for burial and to have Masses said daily there for the salvation of 
their souls. The payment for the frescoes was a house valued at 65 florins. The Chapter House at Sta. Maria Novella is now misleadingly known 
as the Spanish Chapel because of its use in the sixteenth century by the Spanish community in Florence. 


LATER GOTHIC ART IN TUSCANY AND NORTHERN ITALY • I 3 7 


supernatural and a return to the Italo-Byzantine style as a 
retreat from the humanity and naturalist effects of the 
early Trecento. An alternate interpretation by Hayden 
Maginnis sees the new art not as a denial of the old, but as 
a development that heightens or transforms certain 
aspects; he refers to it as a “mannered” style. 

Mid-Trecento Art in Florence 

An altarpiece painted by Andrea Orcagna (active c. 
1343-1368) for the Strozzi Chapel in the Dominican 
church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence (figs. 5.2-5. 3) 


reveals the new style. At first glance the elements of 
Giotto’s style seem to be present, but an examination 
reveals that the figural composition is locked in a rigid and 
formal pattern. In the center Christ is frontally enthroned 
but no throne is visible; he appears as an apparition 
framed in a mandorla by seraphim. Fixing the viewer with 
a hypnotic gaze, but without looking at either of the kneel- 
ing saints, Christ hands the keys to St. Peter, the “rock” on 
whom the Church was founded, and presents a book to St. 
Thomas Aquinas, one of the most important Dominican 
saints and patron saint of the donor, Tommaso Strozzi. 
The equation of Thomas with Peter suggests the important 



5.2. View of the Strozzi Chapel 
with altarpiece by ANDREA 
ORCAGNA (see fig. 5.3) and 
fresco cycle by NARDO DI 
CIONE of the Last Judgment (rear 
wall), Paradise (left wall), and Hell 
(right wall) executed in the 1350s. 
It Sta. Maria Novella, Florence 
(see fig. 2.35). Commissioned by 
Tommaso di Rossello Strozzi. The 
figures in the stained glass, also by 
Nardo di Cione, are the Madonna 
and Child and the Dominican saint 
Thomas Aquinas. 


138 • 


THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 



5.3. ANDREA ORCAGNA. Enthroned Christ with Madonna and Saints . 1354—57. Panel, approx. 9' x 9'8" (2.74 x 2.95 m). Strozzi Chapel, 
Sta. Maria Novella, Florence. The splendid frame is original. 


role of theology in the ideology of the Dominicans. Behind 
these paired symbols of ecclesiastical authority — historic 
and intellectual, papal and Dominican — stand Mary, 
patron of the church, and John the Baptist, patron of Flo- 
rence. Space is ambiguous because the gold-figured carpet 
is flat rather than giving any suggestion that it recedes into 
depth. On the outer panels saints holding swords (Michael 
and Paul) guard the flanks while those with instruments of 
martyrdom (Catherine and Lawrence) stand within. 

The emphasis on a linear definition of form is a change 
from the soft roundness characteristic of Giotto’s works. In 
the head of St. Peter, there is an insistence on every line of 
the intricately curled beard and waved, crisply cut hair. 
Even the complex shapes of the drapery are sharply 
delineated. St. John the Baptist, his locks of hair writhing 
like flames, looks outward with an expression of mystic 
exaltation. Only the female or youthful faces are calm. 
Thomas Aquinas’s distinctive face seems to be a portrait of 
a living individual. 


Two predella scenes are directly related to the saints: 
Thomas Aquinas is shown in ecstasy during the celebration 
of Mass, and Christ walks on water to save Peter. The third 
scene, which represents the saving of the soul of the 
Emperor Henry II, is unrelated to any figure above. 
According to the story, Henry’s soul hung in the balance 
until he made a gift of a golden chalice to the Cathedral of 
Bamberg. Perhaps Tommaso Strozzi expected his gift of 
this altarpiece to determine matters in his favor at the time 
of his own death, which occurred a few years later. 

Orcagna joined the Arte di Pietra e Legname in 1352 
and in 1355 was made capomaestro of Orsanmichele (see 
fig. 7.1). Probably in the same year he began a fantastic 
tabernacle (fig. 5.4) to enshrine a large painting of the 
Madonna and Child Enthroned by Bernardo Daddi, for 
which money was collected in late 1348, after the terrible 
summer of the black death. The scale — more than 36 feet 
tall — and magnificent materials were made possible by the 
tremendous sums given to Orsanmichele as a result of the 


LATER GOTHIC ART IN TUSCANY AND NORTHERN ITALY * 139 



140 


THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 








5.5. ANDREA ORCAGNA. Birth of the Virgin , detail of fig. 5.4. 
Marble with glass mosaic background; height 11%" (30 cm). 
Orsanmichele, Florence. 


plague. The tabernacle is rich with sculpted reliefs and 
figures, and its white marble architecture is encrusted with 
inlaid ornament in blue, gold, and patterned glass. 
Orcagna’s transformation of the Gothic style into a richer, 
more highly decorated mode is evident from a comparison 
with the lucidity of Giotto’s design for the Campanile of 
the Cathedral of Florence (see fig. 3.24). Narration has 
also changed, as demonstrated by comparing Orcagna’s 
Birth of the Virgin from the tabernacle (fig. 5.5) with 
Cavallini’s mosaic of the same subject (see fig. 2.18). In 
Orcagna’s relief, the floor is tilted upward and the bed cur- 
tains are parted like those of a stage to display narrative 
and decorative details. The midwife admires the swaddled 
child, for example, and a background figure holds a 
pitcher and tray of the sort customarily given to Florentine 
mothers after the birth of a male child (see fig. 12.3 for a 
later example). Note too the bedroom walls of unplastered 



5.6. ANDREA ORCAGNA. Death and Assumption of the Virgin , 
detail of fig. 5.4. Marble with inlaid gold mosaic background; 

4' (1.22 m). Orsanmichele, Florence. 

masonry, the interior shutters with their nailheads, and 
even the keyholes in the linen chest (such chests formed the 
pedestals of Italian beds of the period; see figs. 4.16, 9.5). 
All this represents a departure from the restrained reliefs of 
Andrea Pisano (see figs. 1.11, 3.34). 

The Death and Assumption of the Virgin Mary on the 
back of the tabernacle (fig. 5.6) could originally be viewed 
by Trecento Florentines walking on the main street from 
the civic center at Palazzo della Signoria to the Duomo, 
since Orsanmichele’s loggia was then still open (see Map II 
and fig. 7.1). The theme is an important one in Tuscany, as 
the relic of the Virgin’s sash, dropped as she was lifted to 
heaven, is believed to be preserved in the nearby town of 
Prato. No sash is evident between the hands of Mary and 
St. Thomas, to whom she gave the relic, suggesting that 
perhaps a real piece of cloth may have animated the image, 
moving in the air from the busy street. When the loggia 


5.4. ANDREA ORCAGNA. Tabernacle. Probably begun 1352; finished 1359. White Carrara marble, green marble from Prato, and red 
Maremma conglomerate with mosaic in colored glass (some with silver and gold underlining) and inlaid stone, gold, lapis lazuli, metal wings and 
swords; height approximately 36'1" (11 m.); width at base approximately 13'9" (4.2 m). Orsanmichele, Florence. In the tabernacle: Madonna 
and Child Enthroned by Bernardo Daddi, 1347. Commissioned by the Compagnia della Madonna di Orsanmichele. Only a few of the 
tabernacle’s 117 reliefs and statues, which include angels, virtues, the twelve apostles, and the ancestors of Christ, are visible in this view. 


LATER GOTHIC ART IN TUSCANY AND NORTHERN ITALY * 14 I 



5.7. NARDO DI CIONE. Madonna and Child with Sts. Peter and John the Evangelist. Probably c. 1360. Tempera on panel, 
height 30" (76.2 cm). National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (Kress Collection). 


was open, the inlaid patterns would have scintillated in the 
natural and reflected light or, after dark, in response to the 
lighted candles held by the sculpted angels that surround 
the scene. The sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti later reported 
that the tabernacle had cost 86,000 florins — a stupendous 
sum. To emphasize his authorship, Orcagna included both 
his signature and, in the figure of St. Andrew to the far 
right in the Death and Assumption relief, his self-portrait. 


Orcagna, whose real name was Andrea di Cione, was 
one of three brothers (Andrea, Nardo, and Jacopo) whose 
botteghe dominated much of the third quarter of the 
Trecento in Florence. Nardo di Cione (active c. 
1343-1 366) produced the Last Judgment with Paradise 
and Hell that fills the walls of the Strozzi Chapel where 
Orcagna’s Enthroned Christ is the altarpiece. The Last 
Judgment appears on the window wall, while the side 


142 * THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 


walls are given over to the panoramic representations of 
paradise and hell (see fig. 5.2). 

Nardo’s beautifully preserved Washington triptych (fig. 
5.7) is typical of the kind of small-scale folding paintings 
used to aid private devotions. The elegant proportions of 
the Madonna are typical of Nardo’s reinterpretation of 
the style of Giotto, as is the richly tooled decoration. The 
almost perfect condition of the painted surface here is 
exceptional; the wings apparently remained closed for cen- 
turies, protecting the surface from dirt, fading, or other 
discoloration, as well as from rubbing or retouching. This 
is one of the best-preserved of Italian fourteenth-century 
pictures, and it can be used as a standard against which to 
measure the condition and original qualities of other 
tempera paintings of this period. 

A fascinating figure in the complex picture of the third 
quarter of the Trecento in Florence is Andrea Bonaiuti, 
known as Andrea da Firenze (active c. 1343-1377). Little 
of his work now survives, with the exception of a 
panoramic series of frescoes in the Chapter House at Santa 
Maria Novella, where the monks met regularly to discuss 
issues of governance (figs. 5.1, 5.8). Andrea converted the 
interior into a vast panorama surpassing in scale even the 
Government frescoes by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (see figs. 
4.28 — 4.31 ). Here, however, the theme is ecclesiastical 
rather than secular government, and it was clearly the 
intent of the patron, a wealthy merchant, and of the 
Dominican monks who reside at Santa Maria Novella, to 
emphasize the role of the Dominican Order in the Church 
hierarchy’s enforcement of dogma. All the frescoes make 
reference to the sacred origins and supreme power of the 
Roman Church in general and to the importance of the 
Dominican Order in particular. Perhaps the most unusual 
is the scene known as the Triumph of the Church (some- 
times called the Road to Salvation ; see fig. 5.1). 


This fresco covers one whole wall of the Chapter House. 
The lower part is concerned with religious life on earth and 
the upper part with heaven; the area between is controlled 
by the Dominican Order. A detailed representation of the 
Duomo of Florence, then incomplete and never to be fin- 
ished as it is shown here, is intended to refer to the Church 
on earth; it was perhaps also a reminder that, at this time, 
the archbishop of Florence was a Dominican, and Andrea 
was one of the Duomo’s consulting architects. The 
reigning pope, Urban V, is enthroned in the center of 
this section, with ecclesiastics on his right and subservient 
secular rulers on his left. The sheep at his feet, symbolizing 
the Christian flock, are guarded by black-and- 
white dogs — the domini canes (a play on the word 
“Dominicans” that translates as “dogs of the Lord”) — and 
a crowd of ecclesiastical and secular figures gathers before 
the thrones. 

On the right-hand side is the world outside the fortress 
of the Church, where black-and-white dogs attack wolves 
and Dominican saints admonish heretics and refute 

5.8. Iconographic diagram of Andrea da Firenze’s fresco cycle in the 
Chapter House (Spanish Chapel), Sta. Maria Novella, Florence (see 
fig. 2.35). Computerized diagram by Sarah Loyd Cameron. 

1. Navicella (see fig. 5.1). 

2. Christ Carrying the Cross . 

3. Crucifixion. 

4. Harrowing of Hell. 

5. Three Marys at the Tomb. 

6. Resurrection. 

7. Noli Me Tangere. 

8. Ascension. 

9. Pentecost. 

10. Apotheosis of St. Thomas Aquinas. 

11. Triumph of the Church (see fig. 5.1). 

12-17. Scenes of the Life of St. Peter Martyr. 


SPANISH CHAPEL 



LATER GOTHIC ART IN TUSCANY AND NORTHERN ITALY * 


i 4 3 


pagans. Above these groups, worldly figures dance in the 
fields, make music, and embrace in the bushes. These 
sinners can be rescued only by the sacrament of penance, 
administered by a Dominican, while another Dominican 
saint ushers the saved into heaven. In front of the splendid 
gates, opened by St. Peter, angels crown the little souls who 
then move into heaven. Only the saints in heaven can 
behold Christ, who, with book and key, floats above. 
Below him the apocalyptic lamb on his altar-throne is 
guarded by symbols of the four Evangelists, while angelic 
attendants praise God. The details, the general composi- 
tion, and the symbolism all support the didactic function 
of this expansive mural. The space represented in the land- 
scape is curiously negated by the composition and the 
coloring, which produce an effect of allover patterning. 

Andrea has also been identified as the artist who 
designed the magnificent rose window on the facade of 
Santa Maria Novella (fig. 5.9). The subject is appropriate, 
for all who exited this new church dedicated to Mary 
could look up and see her final triumph: her coronation as 
Queen of Heaven by Christ. Stained glass was a medium 



5.9. ANDREA DA FIRENZE. Coronation of the Virgin Mary with 
Donor, c. 1366-68. Stained glass. Sta. Maria Novella, Florence (see 
fig. 2.35). Commissioned by Tebaldino de 3 Ricci, whose family coat 
of arms appear in the outer frame. 

While stained-glass windows were often manufactured in a 
professional workshop, in Florence the artist who designed the 
composition was frequently involved in the creation and painting of 
the details on the glass; the suggestion has been advanced that this 
window was painted by Andrea himself. The prophet in the upper 
right was restored in the fifteenth century. 


imported from Gothic France. The Italian concern with 
narrative, however, means that the subject matter here is 
larger and easier to read than it would be in the typical 
Northern Gothic rose window, which is segmented into 
smaller areas by stone tracery. The central figures, in front 
of whom kneels the donor, are surrounded by the music- 
making, jubilant angels who are a standard feature of this 
subject. The outer circle features prophets in medallions 
amid the curling tendrils and luxurious blossoms of a 
rinceau — a decorative motif derived from ancient Roman 
sculpture. Although the subject is treated in a clear way, 
Andrea has captured the scintillating effect of French 
Gothic stained-glass windows by the patterning of the 



5.10. GIOVANNI DA MILANO. Pieta. 1365. Panel, 43V 4 x 18V8" 
(110 x 46 cm). Accademia, Florence. 


144 • THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 


luxurious draperies, which break down the larger masses 
into a dazzling display of jeweled colors. The setting of this 
event in heaven is also communicated by the glowing 
colors, referring to St. John the Evangelist’s statement that 
in his vision of heaven the walls were “adorned with all 
manner of precious stones” (21:19). 

Giovanni da Milano (active 1346-1366) was, as his 
name suggests, an outsider from Lombardy working in 
Florence at the same time. As a foreigner he was less tied 
than his Florentine contemporaries to the style of Giotto. 
His Pieta (fig. 5.10) represents the dead Christ upheld by 
the Virgin, Mary Magdalen, and St. John. The manner in 
which Christ’s body is raised by the grieving figures is 
intended to remind the observer of the suffering that Christ 
endured for humanity. The intense emotion of pictures 
such as this reminds us of how art served religion during 
this period: while we may admire the artist’s understand- 
ing and skill in representing compassion and grief, those 
who used the picture in the late Trecento would have 
understood it as an aid to personal devotion. The absence 
of any setting and the luminous gold background, which 
silhouettes the smooth outlines of the figures, have a 
simplicity that seems almost modern, but their original 
purpose was to focus the worshipper’s attention on the 
inner meaning of Christ’s sacrifice. The Pieta became an 
important theme in Italian art, and was chosen by both 
Titian and Michelangelo for the works they intended for 
their own tombs (see figs. 19.27, 20.17). 

Late Gothic Painting and the 
International Style 

The last quarter of the Trecento is marked by a continua- 
tion of the styles seen earlier; revolutionary developments 
in art resume only in the early years of the Quattrocento. 
Government was run by committee in both Florence and 
Siena in order to forestall either dictatorship or revolution. 
Applied to artistic projects, the result of this patronage 
seems to have been a leveling process that stressed con- 
formity at the expense of individuality. In this bureaucratic 
society, which held oligarchical control over all state activ- 
ities, the most representative painter in Florence was 
Agnolo Gaddi (active c. 1369-1396), the son of Taddeo 
Gaddi and the artist whose precepts, following those of 
Giotto, appear to be recorded in Cennino Cennini’s 
Book of Art (see p. 27). Agnolo had at his fingertips the 
resources of the Trecento tradition, and at his best he fused 
his Giottoesque inheritance with the compositional and 
expressive devices of the mid-century artists. 

Agnolo’s principal work, for which he must have needed 
a large bottega , is a vast fresco cycle of the Legend of the 


True Cross for the Church of Santa Croce in Florence. On 
the walls of the great apse (see figs. 2.36, 2.37, 3.19), 
Agnolo composed on a gigantic scale, and within each 
composition two or three separate episodes are represented 
as if they are taking place side by side; sometimes scenes 
almost overlap. Landscape or architectural elements serve 
as dividers, in a manner reminiscent of the crowded com- 
positions of Nicola and Giovanni Pisano a century or so 
earlier. By juxtaposing large and small, near and distant, in 
tightly knit scenes such as the Triumph of Heraclius over 
Chosroes (fig. 5.11), Agnolo narrated each episode of the 
story with equal visibility. (For a discussion of the rather 
complex legend underlying this fresco and the others in 
Agnolo’s choir, see the discussion of Piero della Francesca’s 
cycle of the same theme in the choir of a Franciscan church 
in Arezzo, pp. 283-88.) 

Agnolo’s colors are brilliant and varied, and his use of 
detail suggests the effect of huge tapestries, preserving the 
integrity of the surface of the wall and unifying the chapel 
as a whole. In many scenes Agnolo demonstrates his 
mastery of spatial recession; in the Chosroes scene, for 
example, he uses different ways to suggest depth. Agnolo’s 
landscape devices, drapery forms, and compositional 
methods seem to have determined the representation of 
such elements in Florentine painting until the works of 
Gentile da Fabriano and Masaccio in the 1420s. 

The Late Gothic style practiced by Agnolo and others 
seems to have been what patrons wanted, and it was what 
the painters gave them for an industrious half-century or 
so. Among the host of competent practitioners in this final 
phase of Gothic-style painting in Florence, a single artist 
stands out: known today as Lorenzo Monaco (“Lawrence 
the Monk”), he was probably born in the mid-1370s and 
he died (or ceased working) in 1423 or 1424. His early 
works seem to have been influenced by Agnolo Gaddi in 
color, drapery rhythms, and landscape motifs. But the 
attenuated figures, graceful poses, and sweeping curves of 
drapery in Lorenzo Monaco’s figures also betray the influ- 
ence of a new style from the north. Because it flourished 
across northern Europe, from London to Prague, it is 
known as the International Gothic — a term used also to 
identify the style of some of the early works of Ghiberti 
(see figs. 7.5, 7.8) and the related style of Gentile da Fab- 
riano (see fig. 8.2). As far as Tuscan art is concerned, the 
term “international” is somewhat of a misnomer. For 
examples painted in northern Europe, it is often difficult to 
determine in what center or even in what country a work 
originated, but in Tuscany clarity and firmness usually 
prevail over the most exuberant Gothic movement. 

At this point, we are somewhat out of chronology, for 
the International Gothic style seen in Lorenzo Monaco’s 
paintings reveals that the dominant influence on his 


LATER GOTHIC ART IN TUSCANY AND NORTHERN ITALY * 145 



5.11. AGNOLO GADDI. Triumph of Heraclius over Chosroes, from the Legend of the True Cross. 1388-93. Fresco. Sta. Croce, Florence. 
Commissioned by Benedetto di Nerozzo degli Alberti (see figs. 2.36, 3.19). 


mature style was the work of the sculptor Lorenzo Ghib- 
erti, who will not be discussed until Chapter 7. This helps 
explain the vigorous sculptural quality of Lorenzo’s 
flowing drapery, which resembles the folds in contempo- 
rary sculptures by Ghiberti, Nanni di Banco, and 
Donatello (see fig. 7.11). But to place Lorenzo Monaco 
where he belongs chronologically would ignore one factor: 
the first practitioners of the new style of the Early Renais- 
sance were concerned with naturalism, basing their art on 
observation — an approach to representation that meant 
little to Lorenzo Monaco. 

It is not easy to reconstruct Lorenzo’s environment. We 
know that he joined the Camaldolite Order at Santa Maria 
degli Angeli in Florence in 1390 and rose to the rank of 
deacon in 1396. By 1402 he was enrolled in the Arte dei 
Medici e Speziali under his lay name, Piero di Giovanni, 
and was living outside the monastery. Apparently he 
retained his monastic status while working as a painter in 


the public sphere. The Camaldolite Order was one of the 
most mystical of the Tuscan religious communities, and 
this mysticism is expressed in Lorenzo’s Coronation of 
the Virgin (fig. 5.12), which was created for his own 
monastery, Santa Maria degli Angeli (later, Brunelleschi 
designed a new church for the order; see fig. 6.20). In the 
central panel, a tide of colors and forms seems to lift us 
into the empyrean, beyond the dome of heaven itself, 
which we see in cross-section, its arches shaded in blue and 
studded with golden stars. At a Gothic tabernacle, Christ 
crowns his mother. Above, God the Father blesses the 
scene, while in the side gables Gabriel makes his announce- 
ment to the seated Mary. 

Crisp contours and emphatic shading give the figures a 
strong, sculptural effect. The color composition is based on 
a bouquet of blues — the dome of the heavens, the blue 
clouds, the blue shadows, Christ’s azure mantle — in com- 
bination with the gold background and the dazzling whites 


146 * THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 





5.12. LORENZO MONACO. Coronation of the Virgin. Dated February 1414 (actually 1413). Panel, 1 6'9" x 14'9" (5.12 x 4.5 m). 

- ffizi Gallery, Florence. Commissioned for the high altar of Sta. Maria degli Angeli, Florence. 

The inscription provides a date of February 1414, but it is unlikely that such an inclusion refers to the completion of the painting, which would 
hardly have been something worth noting at the time. Dates on works of art more likely refer to the date of dedication of a chapel or altar, or to 
file event that inspired the work of art. February 1414 in the Florentine calendar refers to February 1413 in modern dating, since the Florentines 
began their year on March 25, the day celebrating the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary and, therefore, the date of Christ’s conception. 


LATER GOTHIC ART IN TUSCANY AND NORTHERN ITALY * 1 47 



of the mantles. The figures in white robes at the far left and 
right are respectively St. Benedict, of whose order the 
Camaldolites were a branch, and St. Romuald, their 
founder. In honor of the Benedictines, Mary is garbed in 
white instead of the traditional blue. The colors from the 
surrounding saints and angels are reflected in the shadows 
of these white garments, and even the lightest areas are 
often emphasized by the use of glowing yellow. Rainbow- 
winged angels swing censers below the throne. 

The scenes in the predella are framed in a version of 
the Gothic quatrefoil used by Giotto and Andrea Pisano 
(see figs. 3.5, 3.34). Lorenzo’s Nativity (fig. 5.13) is based 
partly on the writings of Bridget, a fourteenth-century 
Swedish princess who would later be canonized by Pope 
Martin V. Lorenzo does not show every detail of Bridget’s 
vision at the cave in Bethlehem that traditionally marks the 
site of the Nativity, but he includes the principal elements, 
which can be related to a new version of the Nativity that 
became popular in Quattrocento Florence — the Adoration 
of the Child (see figs. 12.26, 15.12). In Lorenzo’s scene, 
Mary kneels to worship her newborn child, who is sur- 
rounded by golden rays; Bridget commented on the light 
that radiated from the newborn child. Lorenzo has added 
to the cave of Bridget’s vision the shed from the Western 
tradition, matching its shape to the angles of the quatre- 


foil. The curves of the frame are reflected in the robes of 
St. Joseph, which unfold below his body like the petals of 
a rose. In the dark night outside, an angel awakens 
the shepherds. 

When Lorenzo died, he left unfinished a large altarpiece 
for the Strozzi family; apparently he had finished only the 
pinnacles. The altarpiece was completed a decade later by 
another monastic painter, Fra Angelico, who was already 
working in the new, more naturalistic style (see fig. 9.2). 
The contrast between Lorenzo’s curvilinear figures, silhou- 
etted against their luminous gold backgrounds, and Fra 
Angelico’s sturdy individuals, standing in a landscape filled 
with natural light, eloquently demonstrates how quickly 
style was transformed during the Renaissance. 

This and Lorenzo Monaco’s other works represent a 
final flowering of the Gothic style in Florence. His display 
of light in the predella panel differs dramatically from the 
treatment of the same scene by Gentile da Fabriano nine 
years later (see fig. 8.3), and even seems less real than the 
rendering of supernatural light by Giotto in the Arena 
Chapel (see figs. 3. 8-3.9). Lorenzo Monaco’s visual poetry 
might be described as imaginative and unreal. The crucial 
developments of the early Quattrocento, on the other 
hand, were based on a new interest in the realities of daily 
human experience. 



5.13. LORENZO MONACO. Nativity, on the predella of the Coronation of the Virgin (fig. 5.12). 1414. Panel, I 2 V 2 x 21" (32 x 53 cm). 


148 * THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 


Painting and Sculpture in 
Northern Italy 

In the late Middle Ages and Early Renaissance, the politi- 
cal life of northern Italy was dominated by relations 
between Venice and Milan, the two most important city- 
states, and their occasional interaction with such smaller 
centers as Mantua, Ferrara, Padua, and Brescia, whose 
communal governments had, at varying moments, been 
taken over by princes who founded hereditary dynasties. 
Milan, near the northern edge of the Lombard plain, con- 
trolled trade routes to northern Europe. Once the capital 
of the Western Roman Empire, it became a flourishing 
commercial center. Its territory, however, was landlocked 
until Duke Giangaleazzo Visconti gained temporary 
control of Pisa in the opening years of the Quattrocento. 
Opposition to this Milanese imperialism, which aimed at 
domination of the Italian peninsula, came from Florence 
and was eventually successful. Florence found its only ally 
in republican Venice, whose outburst of independent artis- 
tic activity began in the middle of the Quattrocento and 
continued throughout the Cinquecento. 

THE VENETIAN REPUBLIC. The very existence 
of Venice is amazing. The city was founded in the fifth and 
sixth centuries on marshy islets of the Adriatic by refugees 
from the Roman cities of the Po Valley who were fleeing 
barbarian invaders. Deprived of their territory and homes, 
the settlers turned to the sea as their resource and protec- 
tion. The Venetian Republic — actually an oligarchy of aris- 
tocratic families with an elected duke (doge in Venetian 
dialect) — became the only state in Western Europe to 
survive from antiquity into modern times without revolu- 
tion, invasion,. or conquest, enduring from the last years of 
the Roman Empire until Napoleon abolished it in 1797. 

Venice was the only Italian state to achieve an extensive 
empire. For many centuries the Venetians disliked and dis- 
trusted land power; their interest was in commerce and 
their riches were fantastic — both had to be protected. The 
security of the city was not hard to maintain; its lagoons 
were superior to any fortifications devised by land-based 
states and the Venetian navy was the equal of its maritime 
rivals. Sea commerce needed bases, which the Venetians 
developed throughout the Adriatic, Ionian, and Aegean 
seas. The Most Serene Republic of St. Mark — “La Serenis- 
sima,” as Venice was termed in legal documents — took 
over ports down the Adriatic coast and throughout the 
Greek islands, and, after the capture of Constantinople by 
Crusaders in 1204, enjoyed extraterritorial possession of a 
quarter of that imperial city. The colorful pageantry of 
Venetian art is directly related to the city’s history and 


topography: ships, flags, exotic garments, and wares of 
many nations mingled here, and the palaces of brick, lime- 
stone, or marble are still illuminated today by both reflec- 
tions from the water and the direct light of the sun. 

The sources for Duecento and Trecento Venetian art 
were largely in the East. Inspired by the Byzantine mosaics 
they had seen in Greece and Constantinople, and some- 
times importing Byzantine mosaicists, the Venetians set to 
work covering the interior of the Basilica of San Marco 
with more than 40,000 square feet of glittering mosaics. 
With the lower walls sheathed in slabs of veined marble, 
the effect was and is one of sumptuous richness. 

In the Duecento, a lively school of panel painting based 
closely on Byzantine models arose in Venice, but Venetian 
painting found its first authoritative voice in Paolo 
Veneziano, whose signed works can be dated from the 
1320s to the 1360s. His works exemplify the refinement of 
Italo-Byzantine style. In Paolo’s earliest dated work, the 
Coronation of the Virgin (fig. 5.14), the freedom, fresh- 
ness, and brilliance of the color epitomize Venetian taste. 



5.14. PAOLO VENEZIANO. Coronation of the Virgin . 1324. 
Tempera on panel, 39 x 30 V 2 " (100 x 78 cm). National Gallery of 
Art, Washington, D.C. (Kress Collection). 


LATER GOTHIC ART IN TUSCANY AND NORTHERN ITALY * I 49 


Unlike Tuscan painting, no clear-cut forms emerge; the 
picture is swept by waves of different colors and patterns, 
forming a web of color and lines, like a luxurious fabric. 
As we study the splendid surfaces of Venetian art, it is rel- 
evant to remember that the Venetians dealt principally in 
spices and silks. 

As in many other cities, the new Franciscan and Domini- 
can churches in Venice were among the largest religious 
structures. The Franciscan church of Santa Maria Gloriosa 
dei Frari (figs. 5.15, 5.16) and the Dominican Church of 
Santi Giovanni e Paolo (not illustrated here) were both 


built of brick, which is a lighter material than stone and 
more appropriate for construction in Venice, while their 
plans follow the cruciform type, with single side aisles and 
central apses flanked by multiple chapels. Their spacious 
naves have Gothic ribbed cross-vaults, with wooden tie- 
rods to constrain the outward thrust of the vaulting, thus 
avoiding heavy buttressing on the exterior. The supporting 
piers are enormous cylinders. The massive scale satisfied 
the need for large preaching spaces, while the austerity of 
design and lack of decoration were intended to communi- 
cate the simplicity the orders promoted. The similarity 



Left: 5.15. Interior of Sta. Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice. 
Begun c. 1330, finished after 1443. Length of nave, 295' 

(90 m). Commissioned by the Franciscans. 

Visible on the high altar is Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin 
of 1518 (see fig. 19.10). The monk’s choir, which has been 
destroyed in so many Italian Gothic churches, including Sta. 
Maria Novella and Sta. Croce in Florence (see figs. 2.34, 
2.36), survives here. The marble screen dates from 1475 
and was carved by Bartolomeo Bon and Pietro Lombardo. 


Right: 5.16. Plan of Sta. Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice. From Dehio and 
von Bezold. 

The numbers indicate the following monuments, added to this Gothic 
church by Renaissance artists: 

1. Frari Altarpiece, Giovanni Bellini, 1488 (see fig. 15.42). 

2. Assumption of the Virgin , Titian, 1518 (see fig. 19.10). 

3. Madonna of the Pesaro Family , Titian, 1526 (see figs. 19.15-19.16). 
Titian’s Pietd of c. 1576 (see fig. 19.27) was originally intended to be placed 
over the artist’s tomb in this church. 


15m 
—r* 
45 ft 


r 5 o 


THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 



between the two churches and their dissimilarity to Gothic 
architecture elsewhere suggests that there was a deter- 
mined attempt to invent a distinctive Venetian variation on 
the Gothic style. 

PADUA. The painters of Padua built upon Giotto’s 
achievements; indeed their art may in some aspects be con- 
sidered a Giottesque revival. The prolific Paduan fresco 
painters added striking observations of their own in land- 
scape, portraiture, and in the painting of animals. The 
most successful came to Padua from outside — Jacopo 
Avanzi from Bologna and Altichiero from Verona. To 
Avanzi have been attributed most of the lunettes of the life 
of St. James, painted about 1374 in the Chapel of St. James 



5.17. JACOPO AVANZI (attributed to) and ALTICHIERO. 

Fresco cycle. 1370s. Chapel of St. Felix (formerly St. James), 

Sant’ Antonio, Padua. Commissioned by Bonifacio Lupi di Soragno 
and his wife, Caterina dei Franceschi, who are represented being 
presented to the Virgin and Child by their patron saints in a scene not 
visible here. The architecture, designed by the Venetian sculptor and 
architect Andriolo de’ Santi, was commissioned in 1372. 


(now St. Felix) in Sant’ Antonio, while to Altichiero has 
been assigned the huge Crucifixion in the same chapel and 
some of the lunettes (fig. 5.17). 

Avanzi’s Liberation of the Companions of St. James (fig. 
5.18) demonstrates the qualities of the Paduan style. 
Although Ambrogio Lorenzetti and the Master of the 
Triumph of Death had developed the panoramic back- 
ground (see figs. 4.30, 4.37), no Tuscan painter offered 
Avanzi’s kind of nature, both impassable and impenetra- 
ble. The human figures, many showing traits of physiog- 
nomy and drapery that remind us of Giotto and Maso di 
Banco, are dominated by the central mass of rocks. In the 
foreground a bridge has collapsed, and the persecutors 
following the saint’s companions fall into a stream. The 
floundering horses and humans are represented with strik- 
ing fidelity. It seems unlikely that a Tuscan painter in the 
Trecento would have put a horse seen from below in the 
most prominent spot in the painting. 

In density and richness, Altichiero’s panoramic Crucifix- 
ion (fig. 5.19) is one of largest and most impressive fres- 
coes of the century. The columns that divide the scene 
repeat the arched colonnade that separates the chapel from 
the nave; by incorporating them into his painting, the artist 


5.18. JACOPO AVANZI (attributed to). Liberation of the 
Companions of St. James, c. 1374. Fresco. Chapel of St. Felix 
(formerly St. James), Sant’ Antonio, Padua. See fig. 5.17. 



LATER GOTHIC ART IN TUSCANY AND NORTHERN ITALY * IJI 




5.19. ALTICHIERO. Crucifixion . c. 1375. Fresco. Chapel of St. Felix (formerly St. James), Sant’Antonio, Padua (see fig. 5.17). 


makes us feel as if we are viewing the scene through them, 
giving the Crucifixion a greater vivacity. Although the 
figures and head types reflect the influence of Giotto, 
the level of realistic detail, especially in the heads, adds 
another level of veracity to our perception of the scene. 
Altichiero’s soft colors and more diffused light also mark a 
change from the Giottesque style that dominated during 
the first half of the century. 

MILAN. In 1387, Milan lost its communal liberties to 
the Visconti family, and for the next two centuries the 
Visconti, succeeded by their relatives the Sforza, held sov- 
ereignty over a territory that included, at times, all of 
Lombardy and much of central Italy. At Milan and Pavia 
these rulers boasted courts whose magnificence was rivaled 
on the Italian peninsula only by those of the Vatican and 
the Kingdom of Naples. 

Bernabo Visconti, count of Milan, commissioned a 
remarkable monument (fig. 5.20) probably from the 


5.20. BO NINO DA CAMPIONE (attributed to). Equestrian 
Monument to Bernabo Visconti. Before 1363. Workshop of Bonino 
da Campione, Sarcophagus ofBemabd Visconti . c. 1385. Marble, 
originally with polychromy, gilding, silver decoration, and a cloth 
flag or pennant; overall height 19'8" (6 m). Civico Museo d’Arte 
Antica del Castello Sforzesco, Milan. Equestrian monument 
commissioned by Bernabo Visconti for the high altar of S. Giovanni 
in Conca, Milan. 







I 5 2 


THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 





Lombard sculptor Bonino da Campione (active 
1357-1385). This colossal statue of Bernabo on horse- 
back, originally placed behind the high altar of a church, 
predates the equestrian monuments by Donatello and 
Andrea del Verrocchio by many decades (see figs. 10.23, 
13.16). In contrast to its dynamic Renaissance successors, 
which are imbued with the influence of ancient Rome, 
Bernabo’s steed plants all four feet firmly on the base, and 
the rider, standing boldly up in his stirrups, stares grimly 
ahead. According to Trecento sources, the statue was 
covered with silver and gold decoration and the figure held 
a flag or pennant. Such a mixture of color and media in 
Italian sculpture is not uncommon; in general, sculpture 
during this period was almost certainly more colorful than 
is generally recognized today. Later the equestrian figure 
became a part of Bernabd’s tomb. In 1385 Bernabo was 
imprisoned by his nephew Giangaleazzo Visconti, who, ten 
years later, purchased the title of duke of Milan from the 
Holy Roman Emperor, Wenceslas. Aspiring to rule over all 


Italy, Giangaleazzo became, as we shall see, a threat to the 
Florentine Republic. 

Animals constituted one of the delights of the Milanese 
and other northern Italian courts, and the pleasures of the 
chase and the joys of collecting rare animals and birds 
from Africa and the Near East enlivened their art. Giovan- 
nino de’ Grassi (active 1380s, d. 1398) was architect, 
sculptor, and painter to Giangaleazzo. He was also respon- 
sible for a“ book of animal studies and for the first half of 
a magnificent Book of Hours. In initial “D” from Psalm 
118 (fig. 5.21), King David is shown enthroned in a Gothic 
interior. The border ornaments, entwined with gold, are 
schematic trees that grow from green grass and rocky 
slopes sparkling with wild flowers. Giangaleazzo ’s shaggy 
hunting dogs sniff their prey: three stags and a doe, 
crouching, climbing, grazing, and even represented fore- 
shortened from the rear. The naturalism and realistic detail 
of Giovannino and other Lombard illuminators was 
internationally famous; known to contemporary French 



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5.21. GIOVANNINO DE’ GRASSI. Psalm 118:81. Page from the Visconti Hours . Before 1395. Tempera and gold on parchment, approx. 9 3 M x 
6V (25 x 18 cm). Biblioteca Nazionale, Florence. Commissioned by Giangaleazzo Visconti, whose profile portrait is shown in the bottom margin. 


LATER GOTHIC ART IN TUSCANY AND NORTHERN ITALY • 153 



artists as the ouvraige de Lombardie , it appears to have 
inspired both the art of the Limbourg brothers in Bur- 
gundy, and, in Italy, the work of Gentile da Fabriano (see 
figs. 8. 2-8. 4). 

Giangaleazzo gathered about himself a talented group of 
artists from Lombardy, France, Germany, and the Nether- 
lands to build the Cathedral of Milan (figs. 5.22-5.23), 



5.22. Interior of Milan Cathedral. Building begun 1385 or 1386, 
choir and transepts completed c. 1450. Marble from the quarries at 
Candoglia, in the vicinity of Lago Maggiore, with brick vaults. The 
cathedral was initially commissioned by Archbishop Antonio da 
Saluzzio, who was a cousin of Giangaleazzo Visconti. Construction 
took many centuries; the lantern, for example, was not finished until 
1500 and the cathedral was not dedicated until 1577. The facade, 
many of the upper pinnacles, and the pinnacle statuary were 
completed after 1805, on Napoleon's orders, and are not illustrated 
here. The marble was moved by water from the quarries to a dock 
near the construction site. 



5.23. Milan Cathedral, transverse section of Gabriele Stornaloco’s 
plan of 1391 (as illustrated in Cesare Caesariano, Comment on 
Vitruvius , Como, 1521). 


which he intended should rival the great Gothic cathedrals 
of northern Europe. Documents record debates about the 
cathedral design between more than fifty local and 
imported architects, engineers and even professional math- 
ematicians who were engaged by Giangaleazzo. His court 
artist, Giovannino de 5 Grassi, served as capomaestro from 
1392 to 1398. At one point in the process of design and 
construction, the participants were divided into two 
camps: one supported a resolution that emphasized practi- 
cal engineering experience, which at the time was called ars 
(art); the second emphasized scientia (science), by which 
was meant a dependence on geometrical ordering and 
design, arguing that, without geometry, the engineering 
experience is nothing: “ars sine scientia nihil est” (roughly 
translating as “skill is nothing without theoretical know- 
ledge”). The first group capitulated, agreeing that no 


154 * THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 



architect could ignore the primary importance of geometry 
in design and construction. 

The idea that there is an intimate connection between 
architecture and mathematics is an old one. In his treatise 
De Musica (387-89 CE), St. Augustine said that the math- 
ematical proportions necessary for both music and archi- 
tecture were the same as those of the universe, arguing that 
these disciplines thus aided us in contemplating the divine 
order of God’s creation. While the connection between 
mathematical proportions and music had been made by 
Pythagoras in antiquity, it was St. Augustine who drew 
architecture into the mix. 

The overarching role that geometry played at Milan is 
demonstrated in a print that preserves a proportional plan 
designed by the mathematician Gabriele Stornaloco of 
Piacenza (fig. 5.23). The cathedral as built followed a 
similar but slightly modified scheme with lower vaults. 
Among the many complexities of this scheme, the height of 
the side aisles was determined by a series of equilateral tri- 
angles. Circles show how the proportions conform to more 
than one system and how the cathedral can be related to 
universal harmonies. Geometry also provided a foundation 
for the earliest Renaissance architecture, designed by Filippo 
Brunelleschi, to which we will turn in the next chapter. 

Geometry brought its own problems, however. Milanese 
documents record that Heinrich Parler, architect of Prague 
Cathedral, believed that the great height of the piers at 
Milan caused a certain structural instability. His suggestion 
was to increase the height so that the space created 
would be equal to the width, thus creating a perfect 


square. Such a move would actually have made the struc- 
ture less stable, and, fortunately, the Milanese chose to add 
buttresses instead. 

The vast interior — the nave vaults reach 156 feet (47.6 
meters) and the area covered is about 126,000 square feet 
(11,706 square meters) — is both Gothic in its use of 
pointed arches and ribbed vaulting, and Italian in the mod- 
ifications to the French system that were introduced. Like 
many other Italian Gothic churches, it is exceptionally 
wide and the effect of verticality so emphatic in northern 
structures is broken by the horizontal emphasis created by 
the unusual capitals. The scale of the structure becomes 
evident when we realize that the sculpted figures in the 
capitals’ niches are life-sized. Despite the cathedral’s osten- 
sibly religious purpose, its size and grandeur indicate that 
it was also intended as a statement about the power of 
Visconti rule. 

TRENT. An exceptional secular fresco cycle of The 
Months draws our attention northward to Trent, in the 
foothills of the Alps (fig. 5.24). The theme of the months 
is not purely secular, for the cycles of nature were consid- 
ered a revelation of the divine order that orchestrates all 
of life. The repeated patterns of flowery meadows, leafy 
forests, and fields with haystacks here are surely meant to 
suggest the design motifs common in French Gothic tapes- 
tries and are a reminder that, during the Gothic period, a 
secular ruler would prefer to decorate his residence with 
tapestries than frescoes. While tapestries could provide 
desirable insulation during the winter months, more 


3.24. The Months, 

April-September. Before 1407; 
restored in 1535. Fresco; each 10' 
high (3 m); dimensions of room 
19'8" x 19' 1" (6 x 5.8 m). Eagle’s 
Tower, Castello del Buonconsiglio, 
Trent. Commissioned by Georg von 
Lichtenstein, Bishop of Trent. Only 
eleven of the months survive. The 
draped fabric painted below 
replaces the original wainscoting, 
which was painted with a sequence 
of niches. 






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LATER GOTHIC ART IN TUSCANY AND NORTHERN ITALY 


1 5 5 



important was the impact they made because of their 
value. Being much more expensive than frescoes, tapestries 
could convey to guests the wealth, and therefore power, of 
their host. By suggesting the style of elite foreign tapestries, 
the Trent frescoes at the very least must have signified the 
sophisticated taste of their patron. 

The frescoes’ subject matter presents a revealing indica- 
tion of how a ruler from this period chose to represent 
episodes in the lives of both aristocrats and peasants. 
While we must be careful not to interpret the seemingly 
everyday scenes here as a mirror of reality, the social hier- 
archy represented was, indeed, quite real. The Bishop of 
Trent commissioned an artist to depict aristocrats at play 
and peasants at work, indicating their separate roles while 
reinforcing the social fact that leisure belongs to those in 
power. The difference in scale between the toiling peasants 
and the wealthy underscores this social gulf pictorially by 
symbolizing worldly status — or lack thereof. 

VERONA. The placement of the statue of Count 
Bernabo Visconti of Milan behind the high altar of a 
church signified both Bernabo’s divine right to rule and his 
subordinate position to God. The monument to Cansigno- 
rio della Scala, ruler of Verona (fig. 5.25), was placed in a 
public piazza, suggesting to the citizenry that Cansigno- 
rio’s authority was absolute. It was the last in a series of 
monumental equestrian tomb monuments erected by the 
Scala family as hereditary rulers of the city. In a desire to 
outdo his predecessors, Cansignorio commissioned the 
largest monument and had it decorated in a rich Gothic 
style. Figures of soldiers in tabernacles surround the 
bier/sarcophagus in the middle, while virtues and angels 
lead our eyes upward to a triumphant Cansignorio at the 
summit. The metal wings of the angels were probably 


5.25.BONINO DA CAMPIONE. Funerary Monument of 
Cansignorio della Scala. Completed 1376. Marble, gilded metal, 
wrought iron. 1 Piazza next to Sta. Maria Antica, Verona. Probably 
commissioned by Cansignorio. 

Although the work is signed by Bonino da Campione and one 
Gaspare (the builder?), it has little in common with other works by 
Bonino and is probably a composite work hurriedly designed and 
erected at the request of a youthful ruler during his final illness. 
Cansignorio, only thirty-six when he died in 1375, had requested 
that his tomb be the work of “the most excellent sculptors and 
architects to be found in Italy at the time.” He was more interested 
in art and architecture than in military affairs, and he is reported 
to have said that “building was a sweet way to become poor.” 
Cansignorio became ruler of Verona at the age of twenty-one 
when he assassinated his older brother, Cangrande II. 


originally gilded and the monument had details added in 
color when completed. The imposing force of Cansigno- 
rio’s personality is still evident when viewed today; such a 
presence predicted the later rise of a secularized world view 
that placed great value on the individual. 



156 * THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 



PART TWO 


THE QUATTROCENTO 




6 . The Renaissance Begins: Architecture 

158 


7, Transitions in Tuscan Sculpture 

180 


8 . Transitions in Florentine Painting 

Z02 


9 . The Heritage of Masaccio: Fra Angelico and Fra Filippo Lippi 

222 


10. Florentine Architecture and Sculpture, c. 1430-14.55 

238 


1 I . Florentine Painting at Mid-Century 

262 


12. Arr in Florence under the Medici 1 

294 

FRANCESCO DEL 

1 3. Art in Florence under the Medici 11 

318 

COSSA. April 

14. The Renaissance in Centra! Italy 

358 

(detail of fij», 15 . 66 ). 

15. Gothic and Renaissance in Venice and Northern Italy 

388 





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THE RENAISSANCE BEGINS: 

ARCHITECTURE 


W e have seen indications of the impact 
of surviving works of classical anti- 
quity, notably in the sculpture of 
Nicola and Giovanni Pisano, but 
only after 1400 did these remains of 
ancient civilization become one of the dominant influences 
in Italian art. The change was so transformative that most 
scholars agree at this point that we should begin to use the 
term Renaissance to describe the new developments in 
Italian art. 

The inspiration of antiquity was first evident in 
sculpture and architecture, while painting — a medium in 
which few ancient examples were known in the Quattro- 
cento — continued to adhere to the principles of the 
International Gothic style. But which medium should we 
discuss first: sculpture or architecture? In the opening years 
of the Quattrocento, sculpture was the first medium to 
demonstrate the strong impact of antiquity, combined 
with significant effects of naturalism (see figs. 7.2-7 .3). 
But the most important sculptor, Lorenzo Ghiberti, almost 
immediately turned away from the new developments to 
explore the fashionable International Gothic style. 
However, when Filippo Brunelleschi revolutionized archi- 
tecture by using a vocabulary of forms and details 
taken from ancient monuments, there was no going back. 
Thus we begin our examination of the Renaissance 
with architecture. 


Before 1400, architecture had remained Gothic, 
although a Gothic modified in Italy by ideas of clarity and 
simplicity. In the early Quattrocento in Florence, however, 
we can begin to trace the development of a new style, 
inspired by forms and ideas drawn from the civilizations of 
Greek and Roman antiquity. When the architect and 
humanist, Leonbattista Alberti, formulated the theoretical 
principles of the new style in a series of books written some 
decades later ( Della pittura , 1436), he referred to the inspi- 
ration of antiquity at almost every point while simultane- 
ously recognizing the importance of the new developments 
being made by his contemporaries. 

Alberti points to the dome of the Cathedral of Florence 
(see fig. 6.7), then being completed by Filippo Brunelleschi 
(1377-1446), as a supreme example of the new art: 

Who could ... fail to praise [Filippo] the architect on seeing 
here such a large structure, rising above the skies, ample to 
cover with its shadow all the Tuscan people, and constructed 
without the aid of centering or a great quantity of wood? 
Since this work seems impossible of execution in our time, if 
I judge rightly, it was probably unknown and unthought of 
among the Ancients. 

While Brunelleschi’s dome might seem to be the product 
of a harmonious period dedicated to the kind of intel- 
lectual activities that Alberti and his fellow humanists 



Opposite: 6.1. FILIPPO BRUNELLESCHI. Interior of the Pazzi Chapel. Perhaps designed c. 1423-24; built 1442-c. 1465. The date “1461” 
is inscribed on the cupola of the facade. Pietra serena pilasters and trim. Sta. Croce, Florence. Commissioned by Andrea di Guglielmo Pazzi. 
After the death of Brunelleschi, the workshop of Bernardo Rossellino probably supervised the construction. The interior includes twelve 
enameled terra-cotta medallions of the apostles by Luca della Robbia and four enameled terra-cotta medallions of the Evangelists attributed 
by some to Brunelleschi. See also fig. 6.22. 


THE RENAISSANCE BEGINS: ARCHITECTURE 


I 59 


praised, nothing could be further from the truth. Like so 
many creative periods, the Early Renaissance (which 
covered roughly the fifteenth century in most major 
centers) was an era of conflict and of challenges only partly 
met. Florence’s role in the modern world has often been 
compared with that of Athens in antiquity, and the resem- 
blance extends to the turbulence that both endured. Only 
on the ideal plane of their works of art did the Florentines 
achieve the harmony and dignity denied them by the reali- 
ties of their epoch. 

During the first third of the Quattrocento, the continued 
existence of Florence as an independent state was in doubt. 
In 1378 the guild system had come under attack in the 
short-lived revolt of the Ciompi — the wool carders who 
occupied the lowest rung of the social and economic 
ladder. After the suppression of the Ciompi, the oligarchy 
re-established its domination through the major guilds and 
the Guelph party. The next threats originated outside the 
city, from the duchy of Milan under the Visconti family, 
who were determined to control large areas of the Italian 
peninsula. By alliances, threats, intimidation, and con- 
quest, Duke Giangaleazzo Visconti gained control of all 
northern Italy with the exception of the republics of Genoa 
and Venice, and of much of central Italy, including Siena, 
Florence’s ancient rival; Florence was surrounded on three 
sides. Eventually Giangaleazzo succeeded in cutting Flo- 
rence off from the sea, and in the summer of 1402 he was 
ready to descend on the city. With no alliances except an 
uncertain one with Venice, modest resources, and no 
standing army, the Florentines — armed, we might say, with 
their commercial power and their courage — had prepared 
for battle. At that moment the plague, always smoldering, 
erupted among Giangaleazzo’s armies, and by September 
he was dead and his empire had fallen apart. The Floren- 
tines rejoiced at their deliverance and returned to their 
commercial and intellectual activities. 

Then another tyrant emerged. King Ladislaus of Naples, 
having conquered Rome three times, threatened Florence 
from the south. Again disease came to the aid of the Flo- 
rentines when Ladislaus died in 1414. Many Florentines 
ascribed these two deliverances to divine intervention. In 
the 1420s, a third danger arose, and this time no disease 
saved the Florentines. Filippo Maria, son of Giangaleazzo 
Visconti, undertook to finish his father’s work. The Flo- 
rentines suffered one defeat after another before they 
managed to pull together the resources of the republic. In 
1427, to obtain the sums necessary for the war, the Flo- 
rentines instituted the catasto , a tax on wealth that was the 
first graduated tax in history. The catasto was the ancestor 
of the modern income tax although it did not tax income 
per se but rather the productivity of the property — includ- 
ing artists’ tools and materials — owned by each individual. 


There was a system of exemptions and deductions and a 
personal, written declaration was required. The large 
numbers of these that survive from 1427 and later assess- 
ments form a valuable source of information about Flo- 
rentine citizens, although it should be no surprise to 
discover that they frequently misstated information about 
their wealth. 

The war dragged on. Filippo Maria did not descend on 
Florence, nor did the Florentines defeat him; a prolonged 
stalemate developed. Nobody really won, yet danger over- 
shadowed the people of Florence for years. In this atmos- 
phere of crisis many of the important works of Early 
Renaissance art were created. Military expenditure 
notwithstanding, the Florentines were able and willing to 
pay for costly structures and large works of sculpture in 
marble or bronze. One reason for this seeming extrava- 
gance was the inspiring civic orientation of the new works. 
In an article written in the 1960s, Frederick Hartt argued 
that these works galvanized popular support for the life- 
and-death struggle of Florence and thus functioned as sol- 
diers in the struggle against dictatorship. These new public 
works were unusual in that they were meant for the indi- 
vidual in the street, not for the pious in the churches. This 
appeal to the individual citizen can be related to the civic 
ideals promoted by contemporary humanists. 

The Role of the Medici Family 

The story of Florentine Quattrocento and Cinquecento art 
is inseparable from the history of the Medici family. While 
the family’s fortunes were founded by earlier members, it 
was Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici (1360-1429) who, as 
banker to the papacy, probably the wealthiest institution in 
Europe, greatly expanded the family’s resources. Giovanni 
commissioned Brunelleschi to design a new sacristy for the 
old church of San Lorenzo (now known as the Old Sac- 
risty; see figs. 6.14-6.16), one of the earliest examples of a 
Renaissance interior. Giovanni’s son Cosimo (1389-1464) 
used the family’s wealth as a catalyst for developments in 
Florentine art, commissioning the first Renaissance church 
(San Lorenzo; see fig. 6.17); the first Renaissance palace 
(see figs. 6.22-6.26); the first Renaissance monastery (San 
Marco, which was rededicated in 1443 to St. Mark and the 
Medici family patrons, St. Cosmas and St. Damian; see 
figs. 6.27, 9.6); two Medici villas; and works of art by 
Lorenzo Ghiberti, Donatello, Paolo Uccello, Desiderio da 
Settignano, and, most likely, Antonio Pollaiuolo, Fra 
Filippo Lippi, Domenico Veneziano, and the Flemish 
painter Rogier van der Weyden. Cosimo may also have 
been the patron of Donatello’s revolutionary bronze 
David , the first large-scale nude sculpture since antiquity, 
which is first documented in the Medici Palace courtyard 


i 6 o 


THE QUATTROCENTO 



6.2. Portrait Medal ofCosimo de’ Medici, Pater Patriae, c. 1465. 
Bronze, 3Vi6" (7.8 cm). National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. 
(Kress Collection). Created by order of the officials of the Commune 
of Florence, presumably in the year after Cosimo’s death. 



6.3. Reverse side of fig. 6.2. The allegorical figure represents 
Florence, holding an orb and triple olive branch. The inscription 
reads, in part, “Pax et Libertas” (“Peace and Liberty”). The medal 
has been reproduced actual size. 


(see figs. 6.26, 10.22). In addition to all this, he was a pow- 
erful businessman, a subtle and cautious politician, a book 
collector, the founder of the first public library, and an 
important intellectual. 

Politically, Cosimo was only a private citizen, but he was 
widely recognized as the man who controlled Florentine 
politics. After he returned from exile in 1433-34, he trans- 
formed the ostensibly republican system so that only 
Medici partisans could be selected for office. His artistic 
patronage had implications within the political sphere. 

The only known portrait of Cosimo painted during his 
lifetime is in Benozzo Gozzoli’s Procession of the Magi , in 
the private chapel in the Palazzo Medici (see figs. 12.1, 
12.24). After he died, the commune coined a medal in 
Cosimo’s honor that identified him as Pater Patriae , 
“Father of the Country,” in recognition of his contribution 
to the city’s political and cultural life (figs. 6.2-6.3). In the 
sixteenth century, Niccolo Machiavelli wrote that Cosimo 
had been “The Prince of the Republic.” Because some later 
Medici rulers were also named Cosimo, the Quattrocento 
patron who played such an important role in Florentine 
life and art later became known as Cosimo il Vecchio, 
“Cosimo the Elder.” 

Cosimo was succeeded by his son Piero the Gouty 
(1416-1469), who was in turn succeeded by his son, 
Lorenzo the Magnificent (1449-1492). In 1494, Girolamo 
Savonarola and his followers drove Lorenzo’s son Piero the 
Unlucky (1471-1503) from Florence. The Medici returned 
in 1512, and ruled Florence until Anna Maria Louisa, the 


childless daughter of Cosimo III, died in 1743, leaving the 
family collections to the city of Florence. 

Filippo Brunelleschi and Linear 
Perspective 

Before discussing Filippo Brunelleschi’s architectural inno- 
vations, we need to consider his role in the development of 
linear perspective. This system, which allowed painters 
and sculptors to control the representation of illusionistic 
space, became widely popular and is one of the hallmarks of 
the early Renaissance style. Both Brunelleschi’s biographer, 
Antonio Manetti, a follower who wrote later in the fif- 
teenth century, and Giorgio Vasari, writing in the sixteenth, 
credited Brunelleschi with the “invention” of this scheme. 

The impetus seems to have been Brunelleschi’s need to 
make measured architectural drawings. In 1403, after he 
lost the competition for a set of bronze doors for the Flo- 
rentine Baptistery to Lorenzo Ghiberti (see figs. 7.3-7. 6), 
Brunelleschi, who had trained as a goldsmith, abandoned 
the art of sculpture and dedicated himself to architecture. 
Vasari wrote that Brunelleschi went to Rome to study and 
to measure the remains of ancient architecture. He proba- 
bly brought back to Florence measured drawings, views, 
and details of the great Roman monuments. 

The perspective scheme that Brunelleschi developed in 
Rome allowed him to make drawings that captured both 
the appearance of an ancient ruin and, by including a 


THE RENAISSANCE BEGINS: ARCHITECTURE * l6l 



6.4. Reconstruction and diagram of Brunelleschi’s perspective demonstration. Model made by Virgil Duemler, “painting” by Lew Minter, and 
burnished silver panels by Francis Nowalk and Frank Mance; thanks also to Marco del Bufalo. 


figure or some other indication of scale, the measurements 
of its components. The utility of such a scheme to an archi- 
tect is obvious, and its usefulness to painters and to sculp- 
tors working in relief was incalculable. Manetti tells us 
that Brunelleschi executed two now lost paintings to 
demonstrate the verisimilitude that perspective made pos- 
sible. One of these represented the Baptistery of Florence 
and surrounding buildings as seen from just inside the 
cathedral door in a view similar to figure 2.33; figure 6.4 
is a conjectural reconstruction of Brunelleschi’s device and 
painting with diagrams to demonstrate his ideas. The sky 
was rendered in burnished silver to reflect the real sky and 
thus complete the sense of reality. While the illusionism 
of the painting itself seems to have been impressive, 


Brunelleschi also devised a viewing method that controlled 
the observer’s experience. Holding the work by a handle 
and looking through a peephole in the back of the paint- 
ing, the observer would view the image reflected in a 
mirror of burnished silver that was held a cubit (the dis- 
tance from the elbow to the end of the middle finger, 
approximately 18 inches) in front of the painted surface. 
By forcing the observer to view the painting in the mirror, 
Brunelleschi was guaranteeing that the observer’s eye was 
exactly opposite the vanishing point, a control related to 
the technique of making measured architectural drawings, 
for which the observer’s position in space was a prime 
determinant. In addition, the peephole forced the viewer to 
use monocular rather than binocular vision. The device of 


162 


THE QUATTROCENTO 




6.5. LEONARDO DA VINCI. Perspective diagram from manuscript 
A. c. 1490-92. Ink on paper, 87 x 5*4 m (21 .3 x 14.8 cm). Biblio- 
iheque de l’Institut de France, Paris: Manuscript no. 21721, p. 41 . 


rbe mirror also meant that the observer could see only the 
illusion; the reality that surrounds a painting and reduces 
irs illusionistic effect was concealed. The painting was 
intended to be viewed from a specific location inside the 
cathedral doors so the observer could lower the mirror and 
check that the painted illusion was accurate. 


Whereas this first painting offered a frontal view of the 
baptistery’s octagonal structure with the main facade par- 
allel to the pictorial surface, in his second demonstration 
painting Brunelleschi represented the Palazzo dei Priori 
from an angle that would bring out the mass of the struc- 
ture, from a viewpoint similar to that seen in figure 2.40. 
Once again Brunelleschi found a way to have a naturalis- 
tic sky: in this panel, the area above the architectural struc- 
tures was cut away so that the real sky, with its clouds and 
changing light patterns, was visible behind the painted 
illusion. Exactly when Brunelleschi created these works is 
unknown, but the first works that show the influence of 
linear perspective date from the late 1410s or early 1420s. 

Figure 6.5 demonstrates how a painter, in this case 
Leonardo da Vinci, created a small drawing of an illusion- 
istic space (for a more developed example by Leonardo, see 
fig. 16.17). Linear perspective is based on the assumption 
that parallel lines receding from us seem to converge at a 
point on the horizon, as seen in Leonardo’s sketch. These 
lines are orthogonals and the point where they meet is the 
vanishing point. The lines parallel to the pictorial surface 
are transversals; Alberti describes how they are derived in 
his treatise on painting (see pp. 248-49). Alberti suggests 
that the artist establish the height of a human being in the 
foreground before dividing the base line into units corre- 
sponding to one-third of this height. This use of the human 
figure then allowed the artist to create figures of appropri- 
ate scale throughout the illusionistic space. 

A print from a treatise by the sixteenth-century architect 
Giacomo da Vignola (fig. 6.6) shows how the observer’s 
viewpoint is crucial for understanding why an object is 
depicted as it is within the artist’s illusion. If the viewer 
were to stand on a ladder, for example, or to kneel, the 
geometrical form would look different. It is interesting that 
Vignola’s demonstration shows how to represent an octagon; 
Brunelleschi’s painting of the Florentine Baptistery or a 
description of that work may have influenced him. 



6.6. GIACOMO DA 
VIGNOLA. Perspective 
diagram from his Le Due 
Regole della Prospetiva 
Practica (Bologna, 1583). 


THE RENAISSANCE BEGINS: ARCHITECTURE • I 6 3 


The Dome of Florence Cathedral 

Brunelleschi’s dome for the cathedral still dominates the 
city of Florence and the surrounding Arno Valley (fig 6.7; 
see also figs. 1.7-1. 8). We do not know exactly when 
Brunelleschi designed the dome, but we do know that his 
father had served on the Duomo committee of 1367 and 
therefore the son must have been brought up with the 
model that was designed at that time (see p. 69). Both 
Brunelleschi and Ghiberti were part of a 1404 committee 
that required the architect Giovanni d’Ambrogio to lower 
his projected semidomes to their present level. Vasari 
wrote that in 1407 Brunelleschi advised the agency in 
charge of the cathedral — the Opera del Duomo — to “lift 
the weight off the shoulders of the semidomes,” urging 
them to insert a drum between the central dome and the 
surrounding semidomes. In 1410, the Opera authorized 
such a drum and a surviving wooden model seems to rep- 
resent this stage. In 1417, the Opera hired Brunelleschi as 
an adviser, and three years later his masonry model of the 
dome was accepted. 


We must recognize the difficulties Brunelleschi faced, for 
the cathedral’s basic plan, begun by Arnolfo di Cambio 
and enlarged in the Trecento by his successors, could not 
be changed (see fig. 2.39). The decorative Gothic surfacing 
of the exterior was largely complete; the nave, choir, and 
transepts had been built, and the size of the octagonal base 
for the crowning dome established. The idea of round 
windows (oculi) instead of Gothic pointed ones for the 
clerestory had been adopted in 1367, and the construction 
of this area was apparently completed by 1390. 

The harmony, clarity, and simplicity that is characteris- 
tic of Brunelleschi’s architectural sensibilities is evident in 
the surface decoration he designed for the exterior of the 
clerestory of the cathedral and the drum below the dome 
(see figs. 1.8, 6.7), in which the oculi seem superimposed 
over rows of rectangular panels. Rectangles and circles are 
elements of architectural draftsmanship created with the 
compass and square. Brunelleschi’s architecture has been 
called “paper architecture,” and to some degree it does 
preserve in stone the process of laying out architectural 
shapes on paper. Indeed, these rectangular panels convey 



6.7. FILIPPO BRUNELLESCHI. Dome, 
Cathedral, Florence. 1420-36; cathedral 
consecrated March 25, 1436; lantern 
completed 1436-71; exterior decoration 
of lower drum completed 1452-59. Dome 
commissioned by the Arte della Lana and 
the Opera del Duomo. Construction 
materials include pietra forte (local 
limestone) and brick; decorative materials 
include white marble from Carrara, dark 
green marble from Prato, and pink marble. 
Every will drawn up in Florence had to 
include a donation to the construction of 
the cathedral. 


164 * THE QUATTROCENTO 




the principles and message behind Brunelleschi’s architec- 
ture, with its simplicity and order, clear-cut proportions, 
and carefully balanced relationships. 

The dome with which Brunelleschi completed the Flo- 
rentine Cathedral is more difficult to relate to Renaissance 
ideals, since its shape suggests an inherent tension that 
relates it more to a Gothic vault than to the hemispherical 
shape of the dome of the Pantheon (see fig. 1.2), which 
Brunelleschi had studied in Rome. The construction of the 
dome, begun in 1420, was completed in 1436, with a tem- 
porary octagonal oculus at the summit until the lantern 
could be built. Despite the difficulty of conceiving and 
constructing an enormous dome for a building designed by 
others, Brunelleschi managed to impose mathematical 
order on the construction, for the dome as completed is 
exactly half as wide as it is tall: 72 Florentine braccia wide 
(approximately 138 feet or 42 meters) by 144 braccia tall 
i276 feet or 84 meters). Such measurements are crucial for 
understanding Brunelleschi’s approach to architecture, 
even if they are not immediately apparent when we look at 
this particular monument. 



6.8. FILIPPO BRUNELLESCHI. Buttress in the shape of an 
exedra, Cathedral, Florence. 1440s. 


In contrast to the dome, its lantern and the four semi- 
cylindrical exedrae that function as buttresses (figs. 
6. 8-6.9) are executed in a different style, without any ref- 
erence to Gothicism. The exedrae are based on circular 
Roman temples that Brunelleschi had seen in and near 
Rome, but at the Duomo the columns are paired — a 
favorite Brunelleschian motif — and alternate with shell- 
headed niches. The beautiful proportional relationships of 
capital to shaft, base, and entablature reveal Brunelleschi’s 
subtle understanding of ancient architectural membering, 
undoubtedly based on the drawings he had made in Rome. 

The lantern, which brings the shapes and forces of the 
building to a climax, abounds in variations on classical 
vocabulary. The eight ribs of the dome culminate in eight 
buttresses, each surmounted by a volute. Each angle is 
decorated with a Corinthian pilaster, while the window 
arches between them rest on capitals of a design unique to 
Brunelleschi but based on ancient examples. Each buttress 
is pierced by a portal-like opening surmounted by a classi- 
cizing shell form. Brunelleschi died before the lantern was 
begun, and some details may be attributed to Michelozzo 



6.9. FILIPPO BRUNELLESCHI and MICHELOZZO DI 
BARTOLOMMEO. Lantern, Cathedral, Florence. After 1446. 
White Carrara marble. The gilded copper ball, made in the workshop 
of Andrea del Verrocchio, was raised into place, accompanied by the 
singing of a hymn in honor of the Virgin Mary, in May 1471. 


* 1 6 5 


THE RENAISSANCE BEGINS: ARCHITECTURE 







di Bartolommeo, who finished it. The lantern culminates in 
a burst of delightful forms: the attic — alternating niches 
and balusters surmounted by balls — supports a fluted 
cone, a gold orb, and a cross. 

No one knows how Brunelleschi intended to complete 
the section separating the drum and the dome, which is 
now a stretch of rough masonry except for the gallery on 
one side (fig. 6.10). Baccio d’Agnolo won a Cinquecento 
competition to design this gallery. After one section had 
been completed, Michelangelo reportedly compared 
Baccio’s design derisively to a child’s toy — the delicate 
miniature wooden cages in which Florentine children keep 
crickets — and work came to a stop. The bare masonry is 
perhaps preferable, for Baccio’s gallery, despite its hand- 
some classical forms, is out of scale with Brunelleschi’s 
design (the gallery is shown as if completed in figure 1.8). 



6.10. Modern cut-away model of Brunelleschi’s dome, Cathedral, 
Florence, made in 1995 by Franco Gizdulich. The scale of the model 
is 1:20. Florence, Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza. Note the 
two hidden vertical ribs. 

Writing in the sixteenth century, Francesco Bocchi stated: “In truth, 
knowledgeable artists cannot well decide whether this sovereign 
building is more beautiful or more strong, for joined together, these 
two things compete with each other for first place, and yet are at the 
same time in harmony in generating wonder and amazement.” 


Brunelleschi’s fame among his contemporaries was 
based largely on his ability to solve the engineering and 
constructional problems the dome posed (fig. 6.11). It was 
the largest dome constructed since the Roman Pantheon 
and no higher dome had ever been built. The officials of 
the Opera del Duomo were especially concerned about the 
colossal expense of erecting the centering of timber that 
was the traditional means of supporting masonry during a 
dome’s construction; the usual method involved building 
timber scaffolding from the ground to support the struc- 
ture as it was being built. Timber centering on the scale of 
the Florentine dome would have used up an entire forest. 
But remember Alberti’s praise that the dome was “con- 
structed without the aid of centering or a great quantity of 
wood.” Brunelleschi’s scheme had the masons working 
from movable scaffolding supported by recently completed 
sections of the dome. Beams that could be lifted as the 
work progressed supported narrow platforms. 

Brunelleschi was also noted for the “machines” he 
invented to facilitate construction. Traditionally, masons 
would have had to carry the building materials on their 
shoulders to great heights, but Brunelleschi invented a 
hoisting machine, the “Great Hoist”, that was such a 
success that the Opera del Duomo had to publish an order 
forbidding Florentines from riding it for fun. 

On the exterior, white marble ribs divide the dome into 
eight segments. These ribs, like those that articulate the 
cross-vaults of the traditional Gothic interior (see figs. 
2.34, 2.38, 5.15), give the dome a Gothic character appro- 
priate for a structure begun during that period. Although 
they are not matched by ribs on the interior surface of the 
dome, structurally the external ribs extend from exterior to 
interior (with the exception of openings for doors). They 
provide the basic skeletal structure that is an important 
part of the dome’s stability, joining other vertical and hor- 
izontal elements in the dome’s internal structure that are 
not visible to eye. 

The dome was constructed using inner and outer shells, 
as is seen in figure 6.11. This double-shell structure made 
the dome lighter and provided access during construction. 
In addition, the space between the two shells created a pro- 
tective barrier between exterior and interior; a leak in the 
outer fabric, for example, would drain into the opening 
rather than go through into the interior and possibly desta- 
bilize the structure. 

FAch of the eight segments between the external ribs 
enclosed two more vertical supporting members (here 
called hidden ribs), making a total of twenty-four ribs (see 
fig. 6.10). Within each segment, short horizontal ribs join 
the hidden ribs to the external ribs. These interlocked ver- 
tical and horizontal elements provide the basic structural 
system for the dome. The outer surface, covered with roof 


i 6 6 


THE QUATTROCENTO 




J Doors on various levels 
that allowed access to 
the stairs between inner 
and outer domes. 


-□ Stone chain (total of 
four). 


-□ Horizontal ribs 
(total of nine). 


Brick construction. 


Wooden chain. 


Stone masonry 
construction. 


b. 1 1 . Cut-away reconstruction of the Duomo, with two examples of 
Brunelleschi’s “machines”: the “Great Hoist” (developed 1420-21), 
below, and the “Great Crane” (developed 1423), above (after 
Howard Saalman, 1980). 

Brunelleschi’s Great Hoist can be reconstructed through drawings 
3> later artists and engineers. Oxen walking in circles revolved a 
mechanism that, through a series of gears, turned drums to which 
'opes were attached. As the ropes were wound onto the drums, 
building materials were lifted into place. Since oxen cannot be made 
I© walk backward, Brunelleschi devised a gear that reversed the 


process so that the oxen’s movement could also gradually unwind the 
ropes, thus allowing goods to be lowered without having to unyoke 
the oxen to turn them around. Cranes (known in the documents as 
castelli , or castles) had been used earlier in the cathedral construc- 
tion. Brunelleschi developed his Great Crane in 1423, when a longer 
working arm and greater flexibility in positioning was needed. After 
construction materials were raised by the hoist, the crane could move 
them into place on the rising dome. 

The section of Brunelleschi’s dome is after Giovanni Fanelli and 
Michele Fanelli, 2004. 


THE RENAISSANCE BEGINS: ARCHITECTURE * I 67 



6.12. View between the inner and outer shells of Brunelleschi’s dome, 
Cathedral, Florence, showing, on the right, the herringbone 
brickwork that gave it greater structural integrity. 

The passage between the two shells made it possible for those 
building the dome to reach the height of construction. The passage has 
been widened at some points so that visitors to Florence can ascend 
in order to study the dome’s construction and enjoy the panoramic 
view from the lantern. The climb from ground level is 463 steps. 

tiles, should be thought of as a protective cover for the 
internal structure, while inside, the ceiling — frescoed in the 
sixteenth century — hides the internal structure from view. 
As solid parts of the dome, these surfaces may slightly 
increase the structure’s stability but they are not a part of 
the construction per se. 

While this would seem to complete our brief examina- 
tion of this complex structure, there is yet another aspect 
of Brunelleschi’s dome that must be recognized. A dome — 
like an arch and vault — exerts an outward thrust that has 
to be contained, usually by buttressing. In Brunelleschi’s 
cupola, the outward thrust is in part constrained by a 
series of encircling “chains” hidden within the structure. 


There are four stone chains and one in wood, their indi- 
vidual “links” — blocks of stone or great wooden timbers — 
held together by iron links. In figure 6.10, the narrow 
horizontal elements that cross the center segment indicate 
two of the four stone chains; the others are near the base 
of the dome and near the lantern. In the section (see fig. 
6.11), the wooden chain is shown in red, while the four 
stone chains are blue. 

While the lower levels of the dome were constructed in 
stone, the upper areas were laid in brick to lighten the 
weight that had to be supported (fig. 6.12). Rather than 
having the bricks laid in concentric circles, Brunelleschi 
designed a method of interrupting each row of horizontally 
laid bricks at certain points with a single brick laid 
vertically; in the next row another vertical brick was laid 
next to the first and so on. The resulting interlocked 
herringbone pattern strengthened the construction. An 
example of this innovative brickwork is visible on the right 
in figure 6.12. 

Brunelleschi’s dome is the predominant symbol of 
Florence. It was under this dome in 1439 that the heads of 
the two branches of the Christian Church — the Roman 
pope and Greek patriarch — signed a treaty intended to end 
the centuries-old schism that divided them (a truce that did 
not endure). For Florentines, the dome’s meaning is sug- 
gested in a phrase still heard today when a citizen declares 
“Io son fiorentino di Cupolone” (“I am a Florentine from 
the great dome”). 

The Ospedale degli Innocenti 

The most striking embodiment of Brunelleschi’s style in 
the crucial years around 1420 was the Ospedale degli 
Innocenti (“Hospital of the Innocents”), which provided 
orphans and abandoned children housing, education, and 
vocational training until they reached the age of eighteen 
(fig. 6.13). These children were given the last name Inno- 
centi, and the role of this hospital in Florentine history is 
revealed by the large number of citizens today who still 
bear this name. 

Despite the classicizing nature of the architectural ele- 
ments in Brunelleschi’s Ospedale, his use of arches sup- 
ported on columns has no ancient precedent; in antiquity 
columns were used only to support flat entablatures. 
Brunelleschi’s models for this motif, however, seem to have 
been two Romanesque structures in Florence that during 
the Renaissance were thought to be ancient: the Baptistery 
of Florence (see fig. 2.33) and the Church of San Miniato. 
While both structures incorporate ancient spoglia (remains 
of earlier structures), certain design elements betray their 
origins in the medieval period. Brunelleschi can be forgiven 
for accepting the local tradition that these were venerable 


i 68 


THE QUATTROCENTO 




6.13. FILIPPO BRUNELLESCHI. Ospedale degli Innocenti. Begun 1419; completed mid- fifteenth century. Pietra serena columns and trim. 
Piazza della SS. Annunziata, Florence. Building commissioned by the Arte della Seta. The enameled terra-cotta medallions by Andrea della 
Robbia (1487) represent infants wrapped in swaddling clothes as a reference to the “Innocents” killed by the order of Herod. 


buildings, but his frequent use of arches supported on 
columns helps to explain why his structures could never be 
mistaken for ancient buildings despite his careful revival of 
ancient architectural details. 

Brunelleschi’s interest in measure and proportion 
explains the harmony of his design. Since he was obliged 
W) be absent from Florence during a crucial phase of the 
hospital’s construction, Brunelleschi provided the builders 
with something they had never seen before: a measured 
scale drawing. According to Manetti, the builders had dif- 
::culty with the measurements and wished they had been 
provided with the customary wooden model. In the docu- 
ments Brunelleschi’s name eventually disappears, and a 
i»ew supervisor made changes in his plan. Only the arcade 
of the loggia and the Corinthian pilasters that flank the 
terminal arches are as Brunelleschi planned them. The 
>econd-story pilasters that would have matched those on 
:be lower level were never executed. 

Nevertheless, Brunelleschi’s role is apparent in the 
modular design that controls both plan and elevation. His 
>ystem of proportions is based on the sixth-century BCE 
writings of Pythagoras, who had noted that when a 
stretched string is plucked it vibrates to produce a note, 
and that when the string is measured and plucked at points 
-hat correspond to exact divisions by whole numbers — 
such as A, 'A, % — the vibrations will produce a harmonious 
chord. Brunelleschi’s use of a modular, mathematical 
system is not new; St. Augustine drew connections between 


mathematics, music, and architecture, relating all three 
to the harmony of God’s universe (see p. 155). In 
Brunelleschi’s use of the Pythagorean scheme, the distance 
between the centers of the columns is equal to the distance 
between the center of a column and the back wall of the 
loggia; this means that each unit — each bay — is a perfect 
square. This module is the base to which others are related 
in the relationships of one to two, one to five, and two to 
five to determine the height of the loggia, the width of the 
principal doors, the height of the second-story windows, 
the width of the smaller doors and windows, the height of 
the architrave, the sizes of capitals and bases, the propor- 
tions of the interior rooms, and other design elements. 

The appearance of Brunelleschi’s rationally planned 
buildings is different from that of ancient Roman struc- 
tures, even if these antique monuments provided many of 
the elements that inspired his new architecture. Character- 
istically, Brunelleschi preferred smooth column shafts such 
as those used in the Florentine Romanesque to the fluted 
ones usual in antique monuments, although it should be 
noted here that the monolithic columns of the Pantheon 
(see fig. 1.2) are unusual in not being fluted. He reserved 
fluting for pilasters, such as those that frame the outer 
arches of the Innocenti loggia; it should be no surprise to 
learn that the columns are three-fifths the height of these 
pilasters. The vaults of Brunelleschi’s loggia are not the 
ribbed cross-vaults characteristic of the Gothic; he turned 
his back on that tradition, using domical vaults instead. 


THE RENAISSANCE BEGINS: ARCHITECTURE • I 69 



Brunelleschi’s Sacristy for 
San Lorenzo 

The sacristy Brunelleschi designed for San Lorenzo is now 
usually called the Old Sacristy to distinguish it from the 
later, second sacristy designed by Michelangelo, which is 
also known as the Medici Chapel (figs. 6.14, 18.4). Gio- 
vanni di Bicci de’ Medici commissioned Brunelleschi’s 
sacristy as an addition to the old Basilica of San Lorenzo. 
With Giovanni’s fortune supporting the work, it proceeded 
rapidly. When completed in 1428 or 1429, the sacristy was 
the first Renaissance architectural space that could actually 
be entered and experienced. In plan, the interior is an exact 
square, extended on one side by a square altar space 
flanked by two chambers. Fluted Corinthian pilasters, an 
entablature, and an arch framing the altar space articulate 
this side of the sacristy (fig. 6.15). 

Here again Brunelleschi used modules to create a simple 
system of proportions: the height of the lower story to the 
top of the architrave equals both the distance from the 
architrave to the base of the dome and the distance from 
there to the base of the lantern (fig. 6.16). Each story, then, 
is related to the height of the entire building in the ratio of 
one to three. While this description of the building’s 
proportions may seem academic, the end result of these 
unifying relationships is a structure that conveys a sense of 
harmony typical of Renaissance ideals. 

Donatello added sculptures — bronze doors, reliefs filling 
the niches over the doorways, and medallions — that chal- 
lenge the lightness and clarity of Brunelleschi’s design. The 
architect apparently protested, and this is one of several 
occasions when artists of the Renaissance did not see 
eye to eye. Considering the gulf between the serenity of 
Brunelleschi’s ideas and Donatello’s interest in powerful 
figures and dramatic narratives, a clash between the two in 
terms of style is hardly surprising. 

San Lorenzo and Santo Spirito 

Brunelleschi was also responsible for a revolution in the 
plan of church interiors and in the relationship between 
church buildings and the urban complexes surrounding 
them. He was commissioned to build two major churches 
in Florence — San Lorenzo and Santo Spirito — and in each 
case he also submitted a design for an adjacent piazza. 
Unfortunately he never saw either church completed, and 
his plans for their piazzas were not followed. Nevertheless, 
Brunelleschi’s ideas for church interiors and his vision of 
harmonious urban design remained influential for centuries. 

Neither church has a clear building history, but it seems 
that both took shape in Brunelleschi’s mind at about the 



A. BRUNELLESCHI'S 
SACRISTY 


B. MICHELANGELO’S 
SACRISTY 


0 20 40 60 feet 

h+++l 1 1 

0 10 20 METERS 


6.14. FILIPPO BRUNELLESCHI. Plan of S. Lorenzo, Florence, 
including First (Old) Sacristy (see figs. 6.15-6.16) and New Sacristy 
or Medici Chapel by Michelangelo (see figs. 18.4-18.7). 
Brunelleschi’s work was commissioned by Giovanni di Bicci de’ 
Medici and Cosimo de’ Medici. See also figs. 18.2-18.3. 



6.15. FILIPPO BRUNELLESCHI. Sacristy, S. Lorenzo, Florence. 
1421-28. Pietra serena pilasters and trim, 38x38’ (11.6 x 11. 6m). 
Commissioned by Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici. Sculpture by 
Donatello. After 1428-c. 1440. Sculpture probably commissioned 
by Cosimo de’ Medici. 


17 0 


THE QUATTROCENTO 





&.16. Plan and section of Brunelleschi’s Sacristy, S. Lorenzo, Florence, 
demonstrating the modular scheme. 


'-ime time. San Lorenzo had the advantage of Medici 
"atronage and consequently benefited from more expen- 
se materials and elaborate detailing, but it was designed 
erected piecemeal and its architect had to struggle with 
^re-existing buildings, including his own sacristy. At Santo 
spirito, on the other hand, Brunelleschi could plan an 
entirely new structure. In designing both churches he 
cnored the complex vaulting systems and compound piers 
: late medieval architecture. It seems that he wanted to 
'-"urn to the simple, three-aisled plan of Early Christian 
"isilicas in Rome, which he probably thought was 
: simplified in the Romanesque church of Santi Apostoli in 


Florence, with its nave arcade of ancient Roman columns 
and capitals. 

Corinthian columns of great simplicity and beauty 
support the nave arcades of San Lorenzo (fig. 6.17) and 
Santo Spirito (figs. 6.18-6.19). To achieve additional 
height, Brunelleschi placed impost blocks — square blocks 
of stone — above the Corinthian capitals (he had used these 
earlier in the exedrae of the cathedral; see fig. 6.8). The 
clerestories have round-arched windows with clear glass. 
Brunelleschi used the dark gray stone the Florentines call 
pietra serena for columns, capitals, and trim, while all the 
stucco surfaces are painted white. The result is a harmo- 
nious yet austere alternation of gray and white that 
emphasizes the modular relationships and interconnec- 
tions between the parts of the structure. This “two-tone” 
system continued in use for both domestic and ecclesiasti- 
cal Florentine interiors into the nineteenth and early twen- 
tieth centuries. The side aisles have domical vaults, like 
the Innocenti loggia, while coffers with carved and gilded 
moldings and rosettes decorate the ceiling of the nave at 
San Lorenzo, with similar painted designs at Santo Spirito. 

The modular structure at San Lorenzo and Santo Spirito 
is similar and, as a result, the spatial effect of the two inte- 
riors is almost identical. If we take one square side-aisle 
bay as the module, then each nave bay is two modules 
wide and the crossing is four modules square (see figs. 
6.14, 6.19). The bays of the aisles are four times as tall as 
they are wide, and the nave is twice as tall as the aisles. The 
width of the nave equals the height of the nave arcade. The 
floor pattern at San Lorenzo emphasizes these relation- 
ships, reinforcing the modular system, but this was not 
carried out at Santo Spirito. The double lines of San 
Lorenzo’s pattern also reference the width of the square 
column bases called plinths, establishing that the width of 
a single plinth is one-fifth the distance between them. The 
visitor is everywhere made aware of the geometric grace of 
the individual shapes and of their function in the har- 
monic, Pythagorean structure of the church. 

A summary of the construction of both churches helps 
explain their differences. In 1418 it was decided to extend 
the medieval church of San Lorenzo with a new choir and 
transept. Construction began in 1421, but Brunelleschi 
was not called in until about 1425, when the foundations 
for the choir and transepts had already been laid. He 
replaced the octagonal Gothic piers of the crossing with 
square piers faced by Corinthian pilasters. At first, replac- 
ing the old nave was apparently not under consideration. 
In 1434, houses flanking the church were torn down with 
the idea of creating a piazza. This may have been when 
Brunelleschi was asked to create a plan for replacing the 
nave. His design did not include the many family chapels 
that now line the side aisles, which were added after 1470. 


THE RENAISSANCE BEGINS: ARCHITECTURE * I 7 I 




Left: 6.17. FILIPPO BRUNELLESCHI. 
Nave and choir, S. Lorenzo, Florence. Choir 
and transept begun c. 1425; nave designed 
1434( ?); construction 1442 to 1470s. Pietra 
serena columns and trim. Commissioned by 
Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici and Cosimo de’ 
Medici. 

A gift of 40,000 florins from Cosimo funded 
the building of the church, in exchange for an 
agreement that he could be buried in front 
of the high altar and that the Medici arms 
would be the only arms to appear in the 
transept or choir. Later, Cosimo’s grandson 
Lorenzo il Magnifico would write in his 
Ricordi (diary) that between 1434, the year 
Cosimo returned from exile, and 1471, seven 
years after Cosimo’s death, the Medici family 
had spent the enormous sum of 663,755 gold 
florins on alms, taxes, and public buildings. 



6.18. FILIPPO BRUNELLESCHI. Nave and choir, Sto. Spirito, Florence. Model submitted 1434-36(?); construction 1446 to late fifteenth 
century. Pietra serena columns and trim. The tabernacle over the main altar is a later addition not planned by Brunelleschi. 


17 2 


THE QUATTROCENTO 



6.19. FILIPPO BRUNELLESCHI. Plan of Sto. Spirito, Florence, 
as originally intended; dotted lines indicate present exterior walls. 

At the same time, Brunelleschi was asked to design a 
grandiose church at Santo Spirito to replace a small thir- 
teenth-century structure. Lateral chapels were planned 
from the beginning and Brunelleschi’s design, probably 
dated to 1434-36, had semicircular chapels around the 
perimeter and even across the facade. He intended that the 
apsidal shape of these chapels be visible on the exterior, 
establishing a play of curved forms against flat upper walls 
and geometric roof lines that would give an effect of sculp- 
tural richness. There could scarcely have been a stronger 
departure from the “paper architecture” of his early work. 
Unfortunately, flat exterior walls now fill the areas 
between the chapels, and the four units on the building’s 
ta^ade were never built. 

Compared with the flatness and lightness of San 
Lorenzo, the interior of Santo Spirito produces an impres- 
sion of mass and majesty. Half columns separate chapels 
that are smooth and unbroken except for a long, arched 
window. This is only one example of an alternation 
between massive, convex gray forms and elusive, concave 
white ones that we experience throughout the structure. 
Brunelleschi’s original plan called for changing the orien- 
tation of the new church so that it would face the Arno 
across a wide piazza, but the citizens responsible for 
carrying out the construction from public funds did not 
accept this bold stroke of urban planning. 

San Lorenzo did not enjoy a state subsidy, and only in 
1442 did Cosimo de’ Medici agree to finance the continu- 


ation of the long-delayed building. Brunelleschi was des- 
tined to see his great architectural vistas only in imagina- 
tion; when he died in February 1446, not one column for 
either of his basilicas had been quarried. Under the super- 
vision of Michelozzo di Bartolommeo, work dragged on at 
San Lorenzo (with some errors of judgment) until after 
1470; at Santo Spirito it extended even longer, and under 
a number of architects. We have no idea how Brunelleschi 
intended either facade to appear. Today Santo Spirito has a 
simple plastered fagade, while that of San Lorenzo, in spite 
of Michelangelo’s dream of completing it (see fig. 18.3), 
remains a wall of unfinished masonry. 

Santa Maria degli Angeli 

A little building that shows a new direction in 
Brunelleschi’s work is the chapel of the monastery of Santa 
Maria degli Angeli, the Florentine seat of the Camaldolite 
Order (see p. 145), whose prior was the celebrated human- 
ist Ambrogio Traversari. The foundations were begun in 
1434, but the current structure dates almost entirely from 
1937. Only the ground plan and early drawings (fig. 6.20) 



6.20. FILIPPO BRUNELLESCHI. Plan of Sta. Maria degli Angeli, 
Florence. Anonymous drawing after Brunelleschi’s design. 
Construction begun 1434; left incomplete until the 1930s. 
Commissioned by the Arte di Calimala, executor for the heirs of 
Pippo Spano (see p. 274). 


THE RENAISSANCE BEGINS: ARCHITECTURE * 173 


give any hint of how Brunelleschi’s building might have 
looked. Intended for a community of about forty monks, it 
would have had little space for public worship. The octag- 
onal plan called for chapels on seven of the eight sides and 
a dome over the central area. The oval chapels extending 
around a central domed area would have continued the 
interest in bold massing Brunelleschi first demonstrated at 
Santo Spirito, while on the exterior niches would have 
created a similar effect. Even more importantly, in this 
project we witness the first step in the direction of the 
central plan, which was to reach its culmination in the 
High Renaissance projects for a new St. Peter’s in Rome 
(see figs. 17.11-17.15, 20.9-20.11). 

The Pazzi Chapel 

The powerful Pazzi family commissioned Brunelleschi’s 
Chapter House, which is also known as the Pazzi Chapel, 
for the monastery of Santa Croce. Although the structure 
may have been designed about 1423-24, construction did 
not start until 1442. The unfinished facade is only partially 
based on Brunelleschi’s design and is not illustrated here. 
The plan and interior (figs. 6.1, 6.21) represent an 
amplification and consolidation of the principles demon- 
strated in the San Lorenzo Sacristy; like the latter, the Pazzi 
Chapel is composed of two stories supporting a dome. 
Here the resemblance ceases. The central square is 
extended on either side by half a square, probably because 
the Franciscan chapter of Santa Croce required a large 
meeting space. As a result, the building is twice as wide as 
it is deep. The center is roofed by a twelve-ribbed dome, 
the sides by barrel vaults. The walls are articulated by 
Corinthian pilasters. Every lower element has a continua- 
tion above. 



5 10 METERS 

-I ! 


6.21. FILIPPO BRUNELLESCHI. Plan of Pazzi Chapel, 
Sta. Croce, Florence (see figs. 2.37, 6.1). 


Brunelleschi’s module is clearly indicated by the 
pilasters, so that the space between the two pilasters on 
each side wall (not illustrated here) is two modules wide. 
The square altar area is likewise two modules wide and 
deep. The height of the pilasters with the cornice is four 
modules. The consistency of part to part is clearer here 
than at the San Lorenzo Sacristy and like the main church 
at San Lorenzo, the modular system is diagramed in the 
floor pattern. 

The proportions of the three stories — architectural 
order, arches, and dome — are not identical, as they are in 
the San Lorenzo Sacristy. Here they diminish as they rise, 
each story decreasing by one half-module. The result is 
that the Corinthian pilasters dominate the interior to 
an extent not seen in the San Lorenzo Sacristy. As in 
Brunelleschi’s other works, the decorative details are set 
out in pietra serena against white stucco walls, vaults, and 
dome. Color is provided by the stained-glass window over 
the altar, the glazed terra-cotta reliefs in the medallions — 
particularly the sky blue of their backgrounds — and the 
Pazzi coats of arms in the pendentives. 

At this point, one might bear in mind the admonition 
of the contemporary Florentine humanist Giannozzo 
Manetti, who stated in his book On the Dignity and Excel- 
lency of Man that the truths of the Christian religion are as 
dear and self-evident as the axioms of mathematics. The 
rational, ordered clarity of Brunelleschi’s religious build- 
ings may disappoint those who, like the critic John Ruskin, 
think that the soaring Gothic is the most appropriate style 
for a Christian church. Yet, when understood in their 
context, Brunelleschi’s churches are religious structures of 
the highest order. The Florentine humanists thought that 
geometric principles could unlock mysteries at the heart of 
the universe and reveal the intentions of a God who was 
eminently understandable and had created the universe for 
human enjoyment. 

The Medici Palace and Michelozzi 
di Bartolommeo 

According to Vasari and other sources, Brunelleschi sub- 
mitted a model for a new house to Cosimo de’ Medici. It 
has been suggested that this house would have been situ- 
ated on the Piazza San Lorenzo, its portal opposite that of 
the church, and that the two buildings would have faced 
each other across the large square. Vasari reported that 
Cosimo rejected Brunelleschi’s proposal as too sumptuous 
and that Brunelleschi responded by smashing the model. 
The story suggests that Cosimo did not wish his residence 
to be so splendid that it would make him appear what he 
in fact was — the ruler of Florence. Cosimo had been exiled 


174 


THE QUATTROCENTO 


in 1433-34, but by 1446, when the palace was begun, he 
had reinforced his power by political maneuvers. Although 
the machinery of the republic remained superficially intact, 
it was controlled by him. 

The designation of the Medici house as a palace does not 
indicate any special status. “ Palazzo ” is used to refer to 
any large building; even the modest town houses of some 
Florentine merchants are called palazzi . But the dimen- 
sions of the Medici Palace (figs. 6.22-6.26) are by no 
means modest. Each story is more than 20 feet (6.1 meters) 
high, and the entire structure, to the top of the cornice, 
rises more than 70 feet (21 meters) above the street. 

It is presumed that Cosimo’s architect was Michelozzo 
di Bartolommeo (1396-1472), but at least one scholar has 
reattributed the work to Brunelleschi because of its origi- 
nality; the exceptional nature of the palace makes it diffi- 
cult to identify the architect. 

After the Riccardi family bought it in the mid- 
seventeenth century, the palace was extended and its orig- 
inal proportions transformed; figures 6.22-6.23 suggests 
the cubic nature of the original. We must also imagine the 
building without Michelangelo’s pedimented windows on 
the ground floor, shown in the print and still in place today, 
which were added in the sixteenth century to provide 
the family with greater security. In the more informal 
atmosphere of the Quattrocento, these arches had been 


open, although they could be closed by large wooden doors. 
To modern eyes, perhaps the most striking aspect of the 
Medici Palace is its fortresslike appearance, created by the 
rough-cut stones of the ground floor; the rustication of 
these blocks is imitated from that of such ancient Roman 
monuments as the Forum of Augustus in Rome, which in 
the Renaissance was believed to have been the Palace of 
Caesar. Even in turbulent fifteenth-century Florence, such 
rustication can have had no defensive nature; it may 
simply have been intended to convey to the Florentine 
passerby the Tuscan dignity and antique fortitude of the 
ITouse of Medici. 

The interior has been modified, but the lucidity of the 
general outlines of the plan and the regularity of the 
palace’s basic shape were new to Florentine palace archi- 
tecture and may have been inspired by the description of 
ancient Roman houses given by Vitruvius, the first-century 
BCE architect and theorist. Later plans of the ground floor 
and piano nobile (figs. 6.24-6.25) reveal the original place- 
ment of some important family rooms, including the 
chapel (see fig. 12.1) and the study (“scrittoio”). Note the 
symmetrical placement of the two rooms flanking the main 
entrance on the ground floor. On the piano nobile , the 
largest room, the sala, was used as a reception hall or for 
dining or dancing. It has a prime corner position looking 
south toward the Duomo, and its dimensions were 



6.22. MICHELOZZO DI 
BARTOLOMMEO (attributed to). Palazzo 
Medici (now known as the Palazzo Medici- 
Riccardi), Florence, as seen in a print of 
1684 from Ferdinando del Migliore’s 
Firenze , citta nobilissima illustrata. Begun 
1446. Commissioned by Cosimo de’ Medici. 
Ground floor pedimented windows by 
Michelangelo (c. 1517), commissioned by 
Pope Leo X. 

A diplomat from Milan wrote in 1459 that 
the palace was “embellished on every side 
with gold and fine marbles, with carvings 
and sculptures in relief, with pictures and 
inlays done in perspective, by the most 
accomplished and perfect masters.” 


THE RENAISSANCE BEGINS: ARCHITECTURE * I 75 




6.23. MICHELOZZO DI BARTOLOMMEO (attributed to). Palazzo Medici, Florence. Begun 1446. 


grand — about 65M x 34b feet, with ceilings about 21 feet 
high (20 x 10.5 meters, 6.5 meters high). One could go 
directly from the sala into a bedroom (camera), and then 
proceed into the narrow passage that led into the chapel. 

An inventory made after the death of Lorenzo the 
Magnificent in 1492 shows that the palace housed a treas- 


ury of Quattrocento painting, sculpture, and decorative 
arts, as well as a collection of ancient coins and gems (see 
figs. 9.15, 10.28, 11.5-11.7, 12.1-12.5, 12.24, 13.2-13.4, 
13.15). We know from documents that a bedroom on the 
ground floor (the camera terrena in fig. 6.24) had inlaid 
wooden wainscoting with Paolo Uccello’s battle scenes (see 


X 6 


THE QUATTROCENTO 






6.24. MICHELOZZO DI 
BARTOLOMMEO (attributed 
to). Plan of the ground floor of the 
Palazzo Medici, Llorence. This plan 
was made in 1650, after the Medici 
had sold the palace to the Riccardi 
family. The areas to the right have 
been lightened because they are 
later additions and not part of the 
Quattrocento palazzo. Archivio 
di Stato, Llorence, Guardaroba 
Medicea, filza 1016. 

1 Garden. 

2 Courtyard. 

3 Camera terrena. 



2 5. MICHELOZZO DI 
ARTOLOMMEO (attributed 
. Plan of the piano nobile of 
ne Palazzo Medici, Florence. 

yah. 

2 Camera. 

1 Chapel. 



THE RENAISSANCE BEGINS: ARCHITECTURE * 1 7 7 



figs. 11.5-11.6) displayed above, and that Piero de’ 
Medici’s scrittoio on the piano nohile had an enameled 
terra-cotta ceiling with Luca della Robbia’s roundels rep- 
resenting the Labors of the Months (today at the Victoria 
and Albert Museum in London). 

On the exterior, stringcourses separate the three stories, 
and the progressive diminution in height from the lower to 
the upper story is accompanied by correspondingly 
smoother surface treatments. The rustication of the ground 
story is replaced on the second by trimmed blocks with 
deep joints, while the joints between blocks on the third 
story are almost invisible. The windows of the upper 
stories are mullioned (divided by a colonette), as is charac- 
teristic of Florentine Quattrocento palaces. The Corinthian 
colonnettes that support the round arches of these 
windows are derived from Gothic structures such as the 


Palazzo dei Priori (see fig. 2.40). Medici arms and symbols 
decorate the lunettes above the windows and a large coat 
of arms at the corner identifies the owners. The motifs of 
the cornice are imitated from Roman models, their large 
scale providing a definitive cap to the blocklike form of 
the structure. 

Like large medieval palaces, the Medici Palace was built 
around a central courtyard (fig. 6.26); the example at the 
Medici Palace is distinguished by its square plan and 
regular design. The lower story is a continuous arcade, the 
second has windows resembling those of the exterior, and 
the third was originally an open loggia. The arcade of the 
ground story resembles those of Brunelleschi’s buildings, 
but here the proportions are heavier, as is appropriate for 
columns that functionally and visually support an enclosed 
second story. 



6.26. AlICHELOZZO DI BARTOLOMMEO (attributed to). Courtyard with sgraffito decoration, Palazzo Medici, Florence. Donatello’s 
bronze David (see fig. 10.22) was first documented as being placed in the center of the courtyard. 


i 7 s 


THE QUATTROCENTO 





6.27. MICHELOZZO DI BARTOLOMMEO. Library, Monastery of S. Marco, Florence. 1442^44. Pietra serena 
columns and trim. Commissioned by Cosimo de’ Medici. 


Although Michelozzo has not been securely identified 
as the architect of Cosimo’s palace, we know a number of 
his other works, both architectural and sculptural. One 
of his most elegant creations is the library of the monastery 
of San Marco (fig. 6.27; for the plan, see fig. 9.6), part of 
an extensive rebuilding project supervised by Michelozzo 
and financed by Cosimo de’ Medici after 1436. The library 
is composed of three aisles of equal height, the outer 
ones groin-vaulted, the central one roofed by a barrel 
vault and supported on an airy arcade of delicate Ionic 
columns; such a combination of arcade and vaults has 
no known precedent. The effect of perspective recession, 
which is enhanced when the library is viewed in photo- 
graphs, is so strong that one wonders whether contempo- 
rary painted demonstrations of Brunelleschi’s perspective 


scheme might have been a part of Michelozzo’s inspiration. 
The long, narrow design with windows on both sides 
maximizes the natural light (which would have been more 
important to the monks who worked in this space 
reading, writing, and copying manuscripts) than any of 
the architectural refinements we admire in the structure 
today. The natural light combined with the slenderness 
of the columns creates an effect that reappears in the 
architectural settings of paintings by Fra Angelico (see fig. 
9.7), who lived and worked there. Donations from Cosimo 
de’ Medici enriched the library’s collection of manuscripts. 
Since books could be circulated for a period of six 
months to applicants approved by the trustees, the library 
at San Marco can be recognized as the first public library 
since antiquity. 


THE RENAISSANCE BEGINS: ARCHITECTURE • T 79 






TRANSITIONS IN 


TUSCAN 


SCULPTURE 


I n irs use and transformation of classical elements 
and die application of a mathemarical proportion 
system to create new effects of harmony and 
balance, architecture is the area in which the new 
principles of the Renaissance are most clearly 
evident. At the same time, sculptors were creating a 
remarkable group of works that express the new concepts 
of individual dignity and autonomy. 

The Competition Panels 

Among the most ambitious sculptural projects of the Early 
Renaissance was the continuation of the series of doors for 
the Florentine Baptistery, one pair of which, showing the 
life of John the Baptist, had been made by Andrea Pisano 
in the 1330s (see fig. 3.33). Two more sets, intended to 
illustrate the Old and New Testaments, were needed to 
decorate the other two portals of the building. In 1401, the 
Opera of the Baptistery announced a competition for 
the second set of doors, to be held under the supervision of 
the Arte di Calimala, the refiners of imported woolen cloth 
and the oldest of the Florentine guilds. The seven sculptors 
who are reported to have competed were all Tuscans, 
including the Sienese artist Jacopo della Quercia (c. 
1380-1438), Filippo Brunelleschi, and Lorenzo Ghiberti 
1 1381P-1455). Ghiberti, the eventual victor, was scarcely 
more than twenty years old at the time and was working 
as a painter. 


The subject selected for competition was the Old Testa- 
ment story of how God tested the faith of Abraham by 
commanding him to sacrifice Isaac, his only son, who had 
been born to Abraham and his wife Sarah in their extreme 
old age (Genesis 22:1-12). Abraham, accompanied by two 
servants and a donkey, took Isaac into the wilderness, but 
just as he held the knife to his son’s throat, God sent an 
angel to tell him that the Lord was pleased by his faith and 
would be satisfied with the offering of a ram caught in a 
nearby thicket. The story was interpreted as foreshadow- 
ing the sacrifice of Christ, but the Opera may have had a 
more immediate reason for selecting it. The climax of the 
story emphasizes divine intervention, and we must remem- 
ber that the Florentines were facing a series of threats from 
outside forces (see pp. 159-60). 

The two preserved competition panels (figs. 7. 2-7. 3), by 
Brunelleschi and Ghiberti, represent the same moment in 
the story: the angel intervenes as Isaac kneels on the altar, 
his father about to put a knife to his throat. The two 
servants, the ram caught in the thicket, and the donkey 
drinking from a stream are represented in both panels. 
Perhaps the inclusion of these elements was required by 
the competition. 

Brunelleschi’s relief is an original creation, full of action- 
filled poses. Abraham twists Isaac’s head to expose his 
neck, while the angel has to rush in and physically restrain 
Abraham to prevent the sacrifice. This interpretation is 
profoundly human. Abraham’s brutal treatment of Isaac 


Opposite : 7.1. Orsanmichele, Florence, photograph of the southeast corner with guild patron saints and tabernacles, including replicas of Nanni 
di Banco’s Four Crowned Martyrs (third niche from left, fig. 7.15), Donatello’s St. George (fourth from left, figs. 7.13-7.14). Rebuilt 1337; 
arches closed, later fourteenth century; niches and sculptures, fourteenth to sixteenth centuries. Pietra forte . The sculptures from Orsanmichele 
are in the process of being removed for restoration; some restored examples have been placed in the upper story of Orsanmichele but this space is 
seldom open to visitors. (For a view of the shrine in the interior, see figs. 5. 4-5 .6.) 


TRANSITIONS IN TUSCAN SCULPTURE • I 8 I 



7.2. FILIPPO BRUNELLESCHI. Sacrifice of Isaac. 1402-3. 
Bronze with gilding, 21 x I7V2" (53 x 44 cm) inside molding. Museo 
Nazionale del Bargello, Florence. Competition panel for the second 
set of bronze doors for the Florentine Baptistery, sponsored by the 
Opera of the Baptistery and the Arte di Calimala. 

suggests that he has had to suppress the knowledge that he 
is about to sacrifice his only child. The body of the boy is 
scrawny, the poses of the two main figures tense, and the 
drapery rhythms sharp and broken. All are rendered in a 
new, profoundly naturalistic style. Interestingly, the 
harmony and balance that we studied in Brunelleschi’s 
architecture are absent from this dramatic interpretation. 

The young Ghiberti, who was trained as a painter but 
had not yet matriculated in any guild, displays extraordi- 
nary accomplishment in handling bronze. In his interpre- 
tation the boy looks upward for deliverance from death. 
Abraham, his arm embracing the boy, is poised with his 
knife pointed toward but not touching his son. The fore- 
shortened angel stops the sacrifice with a gesture. The ram 
rests quietly before his thicket, while the servants converse 
gently. There is none of the physical contact and psycho- 
logical strain of Brunelleschi’s relief, and his jagged move- 
ments are replaced in Ghiberti’s work by poses as graceful 
as those of dancers. Throughout Ghiberti’s composition — 
in every figure and drapery fold and even in the rocks — 
curving rhythms create an effect of continuous melody. 

Ghiberti’s flowing lines draw our attention to the body 
of Isaac. While Brunelleschi has analyzed the human body 
with unprecedented naturalism, his end result is ungainly, 



7.3. LORENZO GHIBERTI. Sacrifice of Isaac. 1402-3. Bronze 
with gilding, 21 x I7V2" (53 x 44 cm) inside molding. Museo 
Nazionale del Bargello, Florence. Competition panel for the second 
set of bronze doors for the Florentine Baptistery, sponsored by the 
Opera of the Baptistery and the Arte di Calimala. 

albeit expressive. Ghiberti’s figure of Isaac is the first truly 
ideal Renaissance nude; here naturalism and classicism are 
blended and sublimated by a new vision of what a human 
being can be. The body displays the strength and resilience 
of a perfectly proportioned youth, overflowing with energy 
yet remarkably graceful. Not since the last Roman sculp- 
tor capable of imitating a Greek or Hellenistic original 
had such a nude been created. Without special study of 
anatomy, as far as we know, Ghiberti understood how to 
represent the difference between bone and muscular tissue, 
as well as the dynamic possibilities of muscles and the soft- 
ness of skin. Most natural of all, perhaps, is the expression 
of the boy — not only his upturned face but the spring and 
lightness of his pose. 

Ghiberti’s Isaac was certainly inspired by a study of 
ancient Roman nude figures, and other references to clas- 
sical antiquity are evident in the reliefs. In both, the head 
of Abraham shows the inspiration of ancient Roman heads 
of Jupiter. The servant plucking a thorn from his foot in 
Brunelleschi’s panel is based on a popular Roman sculp- 
ture, the Spinario , of which many ancient versions survive. 
The second servant is also taken from an ancient model. 
The relief on the front of Brunelleschi’s altar seems to rep- 
resent a scene of religious offering; whatever model may 


182 


THE QUATTROCENTO 



have inspired Brunelleschi, the simple, even deliberately 
crude style suggests that he was consciously setting the 
event in the distant past. In Ghiberti’s panel the altar is 
decorated with an ancient Roman rinceau pattern, and 
antique models have been found for both his servants and 
the ram. These two reliefs are so replete with classical quo- 
tations — yet so few surface in Ghiberti’s subsequent first 
set of Baptistery doors — that one wonders if allusions to 
ancient art were another requirement for the competition. 

There are significant technical differences between the 
reliefs. Brunelleschi’s is composed of a bronze sheet to 
which the individually cast figures are attached, while 
Ghiberti’s background and figures are cast in a single, con- 
tinuous piece, with the exception of the figure of Isaac, 
which was attached. Ghiberti’s relief is, therefore, stronger 
and, because his figures are hollow, his relief is only about 
two-thirds as heavy as Brunelleschi’s. The judges of the 
competition would surely have realized that doors made 
following Ghiberti’s technique would be both more 
durable and require less bronze. For the practically minded 
members of the Arte di Calimala, such differences may have 
helped make Ghiberti the obvious winner in the competition. 

Ghiberti was the author of a lengthy but unfinished text 
titled — after a popular work by the ancient author 
Cicero — the Commentaries , written c. 1447-55. Much of 
the text deals with the relative merits of artists of classical 
antiquity whose works were known to Ghiberti from liter- 
ary sources. One section discusses scientific subjects and is 
especially devoted to an analysis of the eye, its structure 
and its functions, and the relation of sight to the behavior 
of light. Given this study, it seems appropriate to note how 
Ghiberti treats the eye in his sculpture. Before his time the 
eye was generally modeled as a blank surface, whether or 
not the cornea was painted on later (as in the case of 
marble statues) or sculpted away so that colored inlay of 
nory or glass paste could be inserted. Ghiberti makes 
Isaac’s gaze infinitely more expressive by delicately incising 
:he line of the cornea and dot of the pupil. In almost all of 
Ghiberti’s sculpture, the eye is delineated in this new way, 
conferring a vivid individuality to human expression. This 
Treatment underscores other new optical qualities evident 
in Ghiberti’s sculpture. Near the beginning of the second 
Commentary he says, “Nessuna cosa si vede senza la luce” 
(‘'Nothing can be seen without light”), and in his relief 
gilded surfaces send light flowing across delicate textures 
or reflect it into shadows. 

Ghiberti to 1425 

The Opera acquired the competition relief in 1403 and 
paid Ghiberti a sizable sum for gilding the figures and 
landscape. He and the members of his workshop worked 


on the set of doors (today known as the North Doors) until 
1424. Such a lengthy commitment was required by the 
scale of the project and the range of complex techniques 
involved: modeling in wax, casting in bronze, and then 
chasing, gilding, and burnishing the cast bronze, all under 
Ghiberti’s meticulous direction. 

Between competition and commission, the subject for 
the doors was changed, and Ghiberti was confronted with 
illustrating the New Testament instead of the Old. His 
panel of Abraham was thus set aside, intended for use in 
the third set of doors. The second doors (fig. 7.4) were 
designed to match the Trecento doors of Andrea Pisano, 
which were organized in twenty-eight quatrefoils arranged 
in seven rows of four (see figs. 3.33-3.34). While Andrea’s 
quatrefoils are framed with a relatively austere design of 
alternating diamonds and stylized flowers, the greater 
richness and naturalism of Ghiberti’s borders reflects the 
taste of the current International Gothic. Through Ghib- 
erti’s margins flows a tide of vegetable and animal life — 
branches, foliage, fruit, birds, lizards, and even 
insects — and there is a head in a quatrefoil at each inter- 
section. With the exception of Ghiberti’s self-portrait, these 
heads apparently represent Old Testament prophets and 
prophetesses. Each is distinctive — young, old, male, 
female, calm, agitated — and several reveal Ghiberti’s study 
of antique sculpture. 

The lowest two rows of reliefs represent the four Evan- 
gelists and four Early Christian theologians known as 
Fathers of the Church. Above these begin the New Testa- 
ment scenes. The first is the Annunciation (fig. 7.5). Ghib- 
erti’s version is related to a number of Late Gothic 
Annunciations in Florentine art, particularly those by 
Lorenzo Monaco. In these, Gabriel flies into the scene — a 
visionary angel with clouds streaming from his feet, his 
wings beating, still airborne, at the command of God the 
Father, who sends down the dove of the Holy Spirit. The 
flying angel is common in Florentine art because Gabriel is 
shown flying in the most important representation of this 
theme in the city: a modest Trecento fresco at SS. Annun- 
ziata that is considered to be miracle-working. Because the 
head of Gabriel in this fresco was believed to have been 
painted by an angel, this type of representation became the 
standard in Florence. 

The grace and elegance of line of Ghiberti’s composition 
is emphasized by the economy of detail. Throughout the 
doors, Ghiberti seems to be both attracted to the rhythms 
of the quatrefoil format and frustrated by its emphasis on 
surface patterning. He keeps Pisano’s flat bronze back- 
ground, while at the same time rotating the portico before 
which the Virgin stands to indicate depth, as if to penetrate 
the flatness of the plaque. The foreshortened figure of God 
seems to emerge through the background rather than being 


TRANSITIONS IN TUSCAN SCULPTURE 


183 





g 






!BM® 


'JOiiUiSJJB,! 






7.4. LORENZO GHIBERTI. North Doors. 1403-24. Bronze with gilding, height approx. 15' (4.6 m). m Baptistery, Florence. 
Commissioned by the Opera of the Baptistery and the Arte di Calimala. The outer frame, by Ghiberti, has been dated c. 1423-24. 


184 


THE QUATTROCENTO 





7.5. LORENZO GHIBERTI. Annunciation. Before 1407. Bronze 
with gilding, 2 OV 2 x 17 3 /4" (52 x 45 cm) inside molding, m! Panel on 
the North Doors, Baptistery, Florence (fig. 7.4). 



7.6. LORENZO GHIBERTI. Flagellation . c. 1416-19. Bronze 
with gilding, 20 V 2 x 17 3 /4" (52 x 45 cm) inside molding, it Panel on 
the North Doors, Baptistery, Florence (fig. 7.4). 


placed against it as Andrea's figures were. Here Ghiberti 
struggles against the limitations of the frame, trying to 
suggest the illusion of a deeper space. The drapery forms 
contribute to this illusion; Gabriel's cloak envelops his 
^ody in drapery that enhances his mass, and Mary’s belt- 
Less tunic falls in flowing patterns about her limbs, reveal- 
ing their fullness and grace. 

A partly classical portico sets the stage for the Flagella- 
4$on (fig. 7.6). The order in which these reliefs were made 
remains unclear but presumably this is among the later 
ones, for it seems to have been designed near the time that 
Brunelleschi was meditating on his new classical architec- 
ture for the Ospedale degli Innocenti and San Lorenzo (see 
tigs. 6.13, 6.17). Or perhaps the relief precedes these build- 
ings: a search of the backgrounds in Florentine art of the 
early 1400s discloses symptoms of the oncoming Renais- 
sance. In this relief, for example, Ghiberti’s Roman com- 
posite capitals demonstrate his interest in ancient Roman 
decorative motifs. The colonnade, however, is only a back- 
ground for the interaction of the figures rather than an 
enclosure. Christ’s supple body continues the new classical 
Tradition Ghiberti had established in his Isaac. With twist- 
ing movements the men whipping Christ raise their now- 
missing weapons and carry the viewer’s eye up into the 
rhythmic pattern of the quatrefoil. In a sketch (fig. 7.7), 



7.7. LORENZO GHIBERTI. Flagellation, c. 1416-19(?). 
Pen and bister, 8 Vs x 6V2" (21x17 cm). Albertina, Vienna. 


TRANSITIONS IN TUSCAN SCULPTURE * L 85 





7.8. LORENZO GHIBERTI. St.John the Baptist and inlaid marble tabernacle. 1405-17. Bronze, originally with gilded decoration, and mosaic 
decoration in the Gothic gable; height of figure 8'4" (2.55 m). Orsanmichele, Florence. Commissioned by the Arte di Calimala (see also fig. 7.10). 
Historic photograph taken before the figure was removed from its niche. 


Ghiberti explored possibilities for the figures whipping 
Christ. That this quick compositional study should have 
survived from a period when drawings were not valued is 
amazing; it allows us a view of Ghiberti that we would not 
otherwise have. Working from models who were probably 
apprentices in his workshop, he caught their motions 
quickly, using overlapping strokes of the pen. He aban- 
doned the pose at the bottom, but reworked the top one 
into the graceful figure in the relief. 


While Ghiberti was working on the project, the same 
guild who commissioned the bronze doors asked him to 
make a bronze statue of St. John the Baptist (fig. 7.8) for 
their niche at Orsanmichele (see fig. 7.1). This structure, 
originally a loggia, was rebuilt by the commune in 1337 as 
a combined shrine, wheat market, and granary. Its enor- 
mous size may have been intended to convince citizens of 
the vast amounts of grain the commune kept available in 
case of siege or famine. (For its location at a central posi- 


* 


i 8 6 


THE QUATTROCENTO 








"Ml. DONATELLO. David . Probably the figure documented 
in 1408-9 and reworked in 1416. Marble, height 6'3" (1.91 m) 

I including base). Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence. 

This is probably the work commissioned by the Opera del Duomo 
for one of the buttresses of the Duomo. Donatello’s figure and a 
companion one by Nanni di Banco were not mounted there because 
the commissioners had misjudged the scale; the figures were too small 
for the architecture. 


stands proudly yet awkwardly, with his left hand bent 
upward on his hip and his head tilted. His elevated chin 
and self-confident pose assert his awareness of his triumph. 
Interestingly, a large patch of marble makes up David’s left 
elbow. Since the elbow extends further into space than the 
rest of the figure, this raises the intriguing possibility that 
the youthful Donatello may have added the patch to create 
a larger figure than his assigned block of marble would 
allow. It is also possible, of course, that he misjudged 
the size of his block and had to add the patch to complete 
the figure, or that the patch was added when the elbow 
was damaged. 

Donatello seems to have been fascinated by textures; 
David’s hair falls in unkempt masses that contrast with his 
smooth cloak and even smoother neck and cheeks. Even at 
this early stage in Donatello’s style, however, curious sculp- 
tural effects appear; projections and hollows in the marble 
no longer correspond to those in the represented object. 
Donatello has begun to reduce contrasts in levels and to 
vary the marble surface to attract light and cast shadows. 
These tendencies toward optical suggestion — rather than 
description — increased in Donatello’s work over time. 

Donatello’s earliest contribution to the niches of Orsan- 
michele seems to have been the marble figure of St . Mark 
(fig. 7.12) for the Arte dei Linaioli e Rigattieri, the linen 
weavers and peddlers. Shortly after the statue was com- 
missioned, the guild approved a drawing submitted by two 
stone carvers for the elaborate inlaid marble tabernacle in 
which the figure was to stand. Donatello, then, neither 
designed nor executed the niche in which his figure would 
be displayed. While the contract for the tabernacle set the 
price at 200 florins, Donatello’s contract stated that the 
figure would be appraised only on completion of the work, 
revealing that, whereas an ornamental niche could be eval- 
uated in advance, the value of a sculpted figure could be 
determined only after it was completed. Since Donatello 
was usually paid between 90 and 100 florins for a figure 
like St. Mark , the tabernacle would have cost approxi- 
mately twice as much as the figure. 

A comparison between this statue and Ghiberti’s John 
the Baptist (see fig. 7.8) is instructive. In Donatello’s Mark , 
Gothic patterns have completely disappeared. The figure’s 
feet seem to sink into his cushion (a product sold by the 
members of the guild), heightening the effect of reality, 
while the drapery moves naturally over torso and limbs. 
Donatello seems to have been demonstrating how cloth — 
the product of the patron guild — behaves. One wonders 
why the Florentines, whose fortunes were largely founded 
on the manufacture, processing, and sale of cloth, had not 
paid more attention to its properties before instead of 
being seduced by the abstract formulas of the Byzantine, 
Giottesque, or Gothic styles. 


TRANSITIONS IN TUSCAN SCULPTURE * I 89 



St. Mark’s mantle, like David’s, is tied about the shoul- 
ders, and folds of cloth fall around the hips without con- 
cealing their structure. The figure is represented standing 
in a pose derived from antiquity that is known as contrap- 
posto: the left knee comes forward against the cloth to 
demonstrate that it is relaxed, while straight folds reinforce 
the role of the weight-bearing leg. This treatment of the 
drapery bears a striking resemblance to that of the caryatids 
from the ancient Greek Erechtheum in Athens, a monument 
Donatello might possibly have known from a drawing or 
heard of from a traveler who had visited the Acropolis. It 
is more likely that he was inspired by one of the copies of 
or variations on these figures that survived from Roman 
times in Italy. Donatello’s figure suggests the potential for 
movement more strongly than the Greek caryatids because 
of the way the axes of the body twist in space. 

It has been claimed that this statue represents such an 
abrupt break with tradition that it could be described as a 
mutation — a fundamental declaration of the new Renais- 
sance position with respect to the visible world. Yet it has 
not been emphasized how much this new position is stated 
with simple, practical means. No drawings or models 
survive to help us reconstruct Donatello’s creative process; 
perhaps he used a method described by Giorgio Vasari 
more than a century later, who said that a sculptor should 
first model a clay figure in the nude. The next step was to 
dip sheets of cloth in what potters today call “slip” (a very 
thin paste of water and clay), hang these masses of cloth on 
the clay figure until the drapery fell in a naturalistic 
manner, and let them harden. The sculptor could then 
make a full-scale statue in marble or bronze on the basis of 
this draped model. There is no way of knowing whether 
Donatello used this process in designing the St. Mark , but 
one of his later works, Judith and Holof ernes (see fig. 
12.7), demonstrates that he used it at least once on a large 
scale; over Judith’s forehead we can see where the slip 
broke away during casting and the cloth itself was cast into 
the bronze. Perhaps the convincing naturalism of the cloth 
in the St. Mark is, in part, the result of Donatello’s use of 
just such a model. 

According to Vasari, guild officials objected to the figure 
of St. Mark when they saw it in the studio and refused to 
allow it to be installed in their tabernacle. Vasari does not 


7.12. DONATELLO. St. Mark. 1411-16. Marble figure, originally 
with gilded decoration and metal additions; height 7T0" (2.39 m). 
Orsanmichele, Florence. Commissioned by the Arte dei Linaioli e 
Rigattieri. Niche by Perfetto di Giovanni and Albizzi di Pietro. The 
figure’s nose has been damaged and restored. Historic photograph 
taken before the figure was removed from its niche. 




19 0 


THE QUATTROCENTO 


detail their complaint, but the long torso and short legs of 
the figure may have made it seem malproportioned. The 
sculptor asked them to allow him to work on it in its final 
position and, after it was placed in its niche at Orsan- 
michele, he pretended to continue carving behind a screen. 
Without having made any changes, he then unveiled the 
figure and called in the officials, who enthusiastically 
approved the same work they had previously rejected. Pre- 
sumably, Donatello had from the beginning calculated that 
he needed to lengthen the torso and shorten the legs in 
order to make the figure seem naturalistic when seen by a 
viewer standing in the street below. 

Donatello’s statue is formidable not only in the convic- 
tion and naturalism of its rendering, but also in the con- 
centrated power of the face. St. Mark seems, on the one 
hand, to assess the outer world and its dangers and, on the 
other, to summon up the inner resources of the self. This 
noble face with its expression of severe determination can 
be understood as a symbolic portrait of the ideal Floren- 
tine under stress, as identified at the time by humanist pro- 
pagandists for the republic. The expression conveys the 
virtues demanded in a crisis: the eyes flare, the brow knits, 
the head lifts, and the figure draws back in pride, express- 
ing moral grandeur. By contrast, the styles of Florence’s 
opponents, Milan and Naples, remained flamboyantly 
Gothic at this time, and the sculpted figures created in 
those cities maintained a courtly, arrogant expression. 

In the details of the St. Mark , the optical suggestion first 
noted in the David become more evident. Donatello did 
not model the curls of Mark’s hair and beard in the round 
as the Pisano family or Ghiberti would have done; grooves 
and scratches suggest reality as it is revealed in light and 
shade. Donatello’s interest in optical effects led him to 
abandon Ghiberti’s incised cornea edge and drilled pupil, 
which set out to preserve the external shape of the eyeball; 
m St. Mark the pupil is dilated, becoming a deep hole, so 
that the resulting shadows suggest the transparency of the 
cornea. The eye Donatello creates through suggestion is 
thus more realistic in effect than Ghiberti’s replication of 
the eyeball in marble. 

Donatello’s new approach to figural sculpture is taken a 
step further in his St. George (fig. 7.13), also for Orsan- 
michele. The marble figure, removed from its niche at the 
end of the nineteenth century and placed in a museum for 
protection, was replaced by a cast in bronze. St. George 
was the patron saint of the guild of armorers and sword 
makers, whose importance must have jumped sharply in 
the days when Florence was threatened by Ladislaus. But 
we can no longer see the figure of St. George as Donatello 
originally conceived it: a socket hole in his right hand, still 
bearing traces of corroded metal, and drill holes at various 
points indicate that the figure once sported the products 



7.13. DONATELLO. St. George, c. 1420. Marble, height 6'5" (1.95 
m). Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence. Commissioned by the 
Arte dei Corazzai e Spadai for their niche on Orsanmichele, Florence. 
See also fig. 7.1. 

Writing about this figure in the sixteenth century, Francesco Bocchi 
said: “The legs move, the arms are ready, the head alert, and the whole 
figure acts; by virtue of the character, the manner and form of the action 
presents to our eyes a valiant, invincible, and magnanimous soul.” 


TRANSITIONS IN TUSCAN SCULPTURE * I 9 I 




made by guild members — a helmet, a jutting sword or 
spear, and a belt and sheath. These have long since disap- 
peared. The helmet would probably have covered most of 
the curly locks, and the sword or spear would have pro- 
truded menacingly into the street. 

The face comes as a surprise. It is the countenance not 
of an ideal hero but of an individual who is experiencing 
fear. The history of human crises is studded with individu- 
als who never did a brave thing until an emergency called 
forth a burst of action. Donatello’s St. George shows us a 
sensitive, reflective face with delicate features: a slightly 
receding chin, dilated eyes looking outward as if dreading 
the approaching combat, and a brow furrowed with 
nervous tension. His stance — balanced on both feet — 
expresses preparedness. His entire being seems to be mar- 
shaling his resources in the proximity of danger. “In times 
of safety anyone can behave well,” said Niccolo da 
Uzzano, one of the humanist leaders of the Florentine 
Republic, “it is in adversity that real courage is shown.” 
This passage and others written by the humanists describe 
the qualities seen in the St. George and other monumental 
statues of the new age. With the saint’s combination of 
alert stance and worried expression, Donatello introduced 
the element of narrative into large figural sculpture and 
related that narrative to contemporary events. It is even 
possible that the cross on George’s shield is not only the 
emblem of the Christian saint but also a reference to the 
red cross on a white ground that is the emblem of the 
popolo — the people — of Florence (this emblem, among 
others, is visible along the top of the Palazzo dei Priori; see 
fig. 2.40). While Donatello’s earlier St. Mark demonstrated 
a new sense of character, his St. George becomes part of a 
larger narrative that reaches its climax in the sculpted 
predella below. 


This marble relief (fig. 7.14), which represents the story 
of the young hero’s victory over the dragon, demonstrates 
a startling innovation in relief sculpture. Earlier sculptors 
creating reliefs in stone or bronze had thought of the back- 
ground as a plane in front of which figures were placed or 
from which they seemed to emerge, as in the competition 
reliefs discussed at the beginning of this chapter. Even 
Ghiberti, although apparently wanting to penetrate the 
inert background, did so only by means of spatial implica- 
tion. In stone relief sculpture, for example, figures were 
carved almost in the round, barely adhering to the back- 
ground slab, or in a kind of half-round (see figs. 5. 5-5. 6). 
A cross-section of the typical ancient or medieval marble 
relief would show the background slab as a straight line 
with raised projections corresponding to cross-sections of 
the figures. But a cross-section of Donatello’s St. George 
and the Dragon would be illegible — a series of bumps and 
hollows. These projections and depressions are subtly 
manipulated to attract light and cast shadow. Donatello’s 
models for this technique were drawn from antiquity and 
may even have been such small-scale works as coins or 
cameos; the profile figure of the princess, with her wind- 
blown, clinging drapery, is clearly derived from just such 
an ancient source. 

Certain aspects of Donatello’s relief sculpture no longer 
correspond to the idea of the object, but to the image of 
that object which light casts upon the retina. This is a 
crucial distinction that can be understood as marking an 
end to medieval art. The eye is now supreme. Donatello’s 
new technique of optical suggestion is so subtle that he is 
able to dissolve the barrier between represented object and 
background. In the background, he transforms the marble 
into air, showing us distant hills, trees, and convincingly 
naturalistic clouds, their forms progressively blurred by an 



7.14. DONATELLO. St George and the Dragon, c. 1420. Marble, 15 3 /s x 47V4 1 ’ (39 x 120 cm). Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence. 
Relief from the St. George tabernacle, Orsanmichele, Florence. See also fig. 7.13. 


19 2 


THE QUATTROCENTO 


intervening veil of atmosphere. It can be argued that the 
arcade to the right is possibly the earliest demonstration of 
Brunelleschi’s perspective scheme not by the architect; the 
loggia is not essential to the story, and notice the emphasis 
on spatial experimentation in the opening into a second 
space beyond the loggia in the lines of the pavement 
beyond the door, and the open window under the loggia. 
Behind the loggia, progressive diminution makes the line of 
trees seem to recede into space. While the horse rears as 
George’s lance plunges into the dragon’s breast and the 
princess clasps her hands, the arcade and rocky ground 
carry the eye back into misty distance and the intervening 
air seems stirred by a natural breeze. 

All this is done in a sketchy, remarkably unsculptural 
manner, with Donatello employing the chisel as if it were a 
drawing instrument. The Italian expression for Donatello’s 
innovation is rilievo schiacciato (flattened relief). This term 
is useful but inaccurate, for the forms are not created by 
flattening. Here Donatello has abandoned the traditional 
notion of relief in favor of optical suggestion. As revolu- 
tionary as the George relief is, it is not executed completely 
:n rilievo schiacciato ; the figures of George, the horse, and 
the princess are in a kind of half-relief. Only later did 
Donatello execute reliefs in which every form is treated in 
the sketchy, optical style seen in the background here. Nev- 
ertheless, the St. George relief is the earliest demonstration 
>f Donatello’s new technique for relief sculpture, as well as 
®e first demonstration by another artist of Brunelleschi’s 
system of linear perspective. 

Clearly, Donatello’s effects were calculated for the posi- 
tion of the relief on the north side of the building, where it 
was exposed to a soft, diffused light reflected from the 
buildings across the street. The relief depends on the 
autonomy of a single pair of eyes at a defined point in 
^pace, as indicated by the use of Brunelleschi’s perspective 
scheme in the loggia. Recession is also suggested in the 
cragon’s cave on the left. Implicit in this approach is a 
concept of the individual that is alien to the medieval 
notion of corporate society. Is it coincidental that this new 
:dea first appears in a relief of the victory of St. George, 
which can be seen as symbolically re-enacting the triumph 
of Florence against Ladislaus? There were imperfections in 
Horentine democracy, but the declarations of her human- 
ists, and, conversely, the denunciations of liberty by those 
who supported the dictators in other centers, leave no 
doubt that, to contemporaries, the freedom of the individ- 
ual was at stake. This concept of freedom is often posed as 
me of the wellsprings of the new style. 

In northern Europe, a similar interest in naturalism was 
aeveloping in the art of Netherlandish miniaturists and 
panel painters. Their enthusiasm for the visible world and 

ery object it contained resulted in a technique of breath- 


taking accuracy in representation. But the illustrations of 
the Turin-Milan Hours , the earliest works by Jan van Eyck 
that show a stage comparable to the new point of view 
revealed in Donatello’s relief, are datable probably to the 
1420s. Paradoxically, then, Donatello’s work could be 
called the most advanced pictorial composition of its time. 
Lorenzo Monaco and his Late Gothic contemporaries give 
no hint that they knew what Donatello was about. 

Nanni di Banco 

Nanni di Banco (c. 1374-1421), a contemporary of Ghib- 
erti and Donatello, was brought up by a sculptor father 
who worked in the cathedral workshop. Nanni was 
responsible for statues in three niches at Orsanmichele, the 
most striking of which is the Four Crowned Martyrs (fig. 
7.15). According to legend, these Early Christian martyrs 
were Roman sculptors who were executed for refusing to 
carve a statue of a pagan god for the emperor Diocletian. 
The niche retains some Gothic details, but the togalike 
cloaks of the two figures on the right could hardly look 
more Roman, and their dignified poses are inspired by 
ancient Roman statuary. The heads are strikingly reminis- 
cent of Roman portraiture, and it has been suggested that 
one is a portrait of Nanni’s sculptor brother Antonio, who 
died while the group was being created. The two figures on 
the right were carved from a single block of marble. This 
may in part have been practical, given the difficulties of 
squeezing four figures into a single niche, but it could also 
reflect the influence of a passage from the ancient Roman 
writer Pliny the Elder, who in his Natural History (c. 77 
ce) praised ancient sculptors who had carved two figures 
from a single block. 

Nanni’s reliance on and quotation of Roman sources 
were not unique at the time. The propagandists who wrote 
in support of the Milanese and Neapolitan autocrats had 
drawn on literary examples from Imperial Rome; the apol- 
ogists for the Florentine Republic pointed to the virtues of 
republican Rome and the Roman people, whose heirs they 
felt themselves to be. Even the Tuscan version of the Italian 
language, known as the volgare from the Latin word for 
“common,” was defended by the humanists as the true 
successor to ancient Latin. It is republican models that 
these statues call to mind. The determinedly Roman nature 
of Nanni’s Four Crowned Martyrs may also be the sculp- 
tor’s attempt to be historically accurate — to represent these 
sculptors as a part of the ancient Roman world in which 
they lived, worked, and died. Such an attitude would coin- 
cide with the new interest in accurate, researched history 
evident in the work of contemporary humanists. 

There is something conspiratorial about these four men, 
united in a resolve to die for their principles. The patrons 


TRANSITIONS IN TUSCAN SCULPTURE * 193 



7.15. NANNI DI 
BANCO. Four Crowned 
Martyrs ( Quattro Santi 
Coronati ) and tabernacle, 
c. 1409-16/17. White 
marble figures and 
polychrome niche of 
white, green, and gray 
marble with additions in 
blue faience; height of 
figures approx. 6' (1.83 
m). Commissioned by the 
Arte di Pietra e Legname. 
The two figures on the 
right were carved from 
a single block. Historic 
photograph taken before 
the figures were removed 
from their niche. 
Orsanmichele, Florence. 
See also fig. 7.1. 


were the guild of workers in stone and wood, to which 
Nanni was inscribed as a member in 1405. By depicting 
the guild’s patrons in this manner, Nanni ennobled its 
members, as Donatello was shortly to do for the armorers 
in the St. George. The four dignified individuals grouped 
in a semicircle formed an unprecedented composition in 
Italian sculpture, one that exercised a profound effect on 
the art of the Quattrocento and even the Cinquecento, 
especially on the painter Masaccio (see fig. 8.9). Its impact 
is even demonstrated in Raphael’s frescoes in the Stanza 
della Segnatura (see figs. 17.45-17.49). The Martyr to 


the right, derived from a figure of an ancient Roman 
orator, seems to speak while the others listen, contemplat- 
ing their decision and assessing the consequences of their 
resolution. The debate that we sense is taking place here 
has been interpreted as a demonstration of the corporate 
republican ideals of the members of the merchant-class and 
artisan-class guilds in Florence. Nanni and his father, 
uncle, and brother were all engaged in various guild and 
civic responsibilities. 

The movements of the drapery folds seem in some cases 
to sweep the four together, in others to hold them hesi- 


194 


THE QUATTROCENTO 



tantly apart. But the figures are united by two simple 
devices: first, the pedestal on which they stand is carved in 
an arc that follows the placement of their feet; second, the 
back of the tabernacle is draped in broad folds — a motif 
taken from ancient sarcophagi that reinforces the semi- 
circular grouping. Details of features, hair, and beards 
either long or stubbled (the decision not to shave marked, 
in certain periods of Roman history, the resolve of the pen- 
itent) demonstrate an interest in both ancient and Gothic 
sources, natural enough in a sculptor trained in a fairly 
conservative tradition. Nanni is apparently not inspired by 
the optical suggestions of Donatello; his drapery masses, 
locks of hair and beard, stubble, wrinkles, and veins are 
fully modeled, not flattened or sketched as in Donatello’s 
illusionistic method. 

To enhance the naturalism of the group, the feet of the 
two outer figures overlap the base, extending into our 
space. The pedestal below the white marble figures is a dis- 
tinctive gray-veined marble, emphasizing that the figures 
are separate from their base. Like the malleable pillow 
below the feet of Donatello’s St. Mark , which heightens the 
sense of reality, Nanni’s base suggests that these figures 
could step out of their tabernacle. In the relief below, 
carved in a traditional style, four stoneworkers in contem- 
porary dress build a wall, carve a column, measure a 
capital, and finish a statue of a nude putto. 

It is idle to speculate what Nanni di Banco might have 
achieved had he not died young, but the single-minded 
force of his art makes us wonder whether the course of the 
Quattrocento might not have been different had he lived to 
mid-century or even beyond, as did Donatello and Ghiberti. 
The culminating work of Nanni’s brief career is his 
Assumption of the Virgin (fig. 7.16) above the Porta della 
Mandorla — a doorway of Florence Cathedral that takes its 
name from the mandorla (almond-shaped glory) surrounding 
the Virgin. The work, commissioned in 1414, was listed as 
incomplete in a document at Nanni’s death in 1421, but 
this may refer only to the fact that the ensemble, carved in 
the workshop, had yet to be mounted on the cathedral. 

In contrast to the gravity of Nanni’s work at Orsan- 
michele, his Assumption is turbulent. Four angels lift the 
mandorla, while the Virgin, supported by seraphim, hands 
her belt to the kneeling St. Thomas as proof of her assump- 
tion. Today the relief has lost its most important attribute, 
tor, as in Andrea Orcagna’s relief of the same subject at 
Orsanmichele (see fig. 5.6), the original belt was a length 
of gold-edged silk that would have moved with the wind. 
This was soon replaced with a metal version, which is also 
lost. The figures had gold leaf on selected details, and a 
painted blue background clarified the crowded composi- 
tion. Because of the limited space available and the need 
tor a clear narrative when seen from below, the usual 


7.16. NANNI DI BANCO. Assumption of the Virgin , gable on 
the ft Porta della Mandorla, Cathedral, Florence. 1414-22. White 
marble with frame of red and green-black marble and green granite, 
originally with a painted blue background and gold leaf decoration 
on details of the figures, a painted metal lily in one of the hands of 
the Virgin Mary, and a silk sash with gold borders or tassels. The 
latter was replaced with a copper sash in 1435. The spikes that held 
the sash in place can still be seen in Mary's hands. Commissioned by 
the Opera del Duomo. 

The main relief is composed of eleven sections of white marble. 
Notice the motif of repeated elaborate hanging lamps shown in 
perspective in inlaid marble in the elaborate border; lamps are a 
traditional symbol of the Virgin Mary, but the specific nature of these 
examples may reflect the use of hanging lamps in Florentine ritual in 
honor of the Virgin. 


TRANSITIONS IN TUSCAN SCULPTURE * 195 


witnesses are absent and the scene acquires the character of 
a private revelation to St. Thomas, the most famous of 
doubters. The only other figure in the ensemble, except for 
the angels (three more, making music, fill the point of the 
gable), is a bear who seems to be trying to shake acorns 
from an oak tree. The meaning of this unusual addition to 
the Assumption scene has been difficult to unravel, but one 
analysis emphasizes that the bear can be connected both to 
the notion of the wilderness into which the original sinners, 
Adam and Eve, were exiled, and to the sin of physical grat- 
ification or lust. In this light, Frederick Hartt’s original 
suggestion is not far off the mark: “Perhaps Nanni intended 
to contrast the impossibility of gaining bounty through 
force, exemplified by the animal’s greed and rage, with the 
golden gift received by St. Thomas through divine grace.” It 
has recently been suggested that this bear may have played 
a role in inspiring the humanist Leonbattista Alberti when he 
wrote that the “copiousness and variety” of a good istoria 
(narrative scene) would be well served by adding animals. 

The effect of the narrative whole is dramatic and instan- 
taneous. Flying folds of drapery, agitated by the upward 
movement of Mary’s mandorla, envelop Nanni’s power- 
fully modeled figures. The faces are full of individuality, 
energy, and beauty — all hallmarks of Renaissance style. It 
is clear that Nanni was in the forefront of the Florentine 
Renaissance, in full control of its naturalism and 
classical resources. 

Donatello (c. 1420 to c. 1435) 

Donatello was involved repeatedly in work for the Cathe- 
dral of Florence, even contributing two small heads to the 
Porta della Mandorla after Nanni’s death. During the 
twenty years from 1415 to 1435, the sculptor, sometimes 
in partnership with Nanni di Bartolo, carved seven marble 
prophets for the Campanile (see fig. 3.25), completing the 
series of sixteen begun in the Trecento. These statues have 
now been removed to a museum, where they have lost an 
essential element of their former effect: the tension between 
statue and niche so important in works by Donatello, 
Ghiberti, and others. While the statues at Orsanmichele 
addressed the citizen from slightly above eye level, the 
Campanile figures could be viewed only from a great dis- 
tance. Donatello, who was relatively conservative in his 
treatment of his earlier statues for this setting, apparently 
realized after they were installed that he would have to 
adopt more drastic methods if he wanted to communicate 
with viewers standing far below. 

The most dramatic of the group is the so-called Zuccone 
(“Big Squash,” or “Baldy”), a figure sometimes identified 
as Habakkuk (fig. 7.17). Donatello clearly calculated the 
effect of the statue on an observer standing at least 60 feet 


below. The psychological intensity expressed by this figure 
surpasses anything he had previously created. In Gothic 
cathedrals and throughout Italian Trecento art, Old Testa- 
ment prophets and New Testament saints — with the excep- 
tion of John the Baptist, who lived in the wilderness — are 
generally dignified characters with flowing robes and well- 
combed hair. Not so Donatello’s emaciated prophet, who 



7.17. DONATELLO. Zuccone {Habakkuk?). c. 1427-36. Marble, 
height 6'5 " (1.95 m). Museo delPOpera del Duomo, Llorence. 
Commissioned by the Opera del Duomo. Historic photograph 
of the figure on the Campanile, Llorence (see fig. 3.25). 


196 


* 


THE QUATTROCENTO 



seems to throb with the import of his divinely inspired 
messages and the devastation of his rejection. His stance 
and expression convey the fiery intensity of the prophetic 
books of the Old Testament. As Zuccone draws his chin in 
and gazes bitterly down, he opens his mouth as if to speak 
in condemnation of humanity’s iniquities. The figure is 
skin and bone under the rough cloth robe, which suggests 
the sweep of a toga. The hand clutches convulsively at the 
strap and the rolled top of a scroll. The bald head is carved 
with brutal strokes, left intentionally rough, and the marks 
that represent stubble on the chin, the flare of the lips, 
and the eyebrows have been exaggerated by the effects 
of weathering. - 

One wonders where Donatello found the models for this 
work. Denunciatory types still roam the streets of Florence; 
perhaps in Donatello’s day there were even more. Certain 
features suggest that Donatello was inspired by the realism 
found in Roman portrait busts, but, whatever his sources, 
they have been transfigured by the sculptor’s imaginative 
powers. The pulsating folds, disordered locks, tense pose, 


and searing glance all express the difficult task facing the 
prophet, who must communicate to an unwilling people 
what he believes to be an inspiration received from God. 

Donatello’s optical interests and the vitality of his dra- 
matic style reach a climax in the Feast of Herod (fig. 7.18) 
for the baptismal font of the Cathedral of Siena, a project 
in which he was involved with other sculptors, including 
Ghiberti and the Sienese Jacopo della Quercia (fig. 7.19). 
His relief offers a virtuoso demonstration of the devices a 
sculptor can use to create illusionistic space: linear per- 
spective, overlapping, diminution, and reduction in height 
of relief, leading back to schiacciato in the most distant 
part of the illusion. 

Donatello’s Feast of Herod is closer to a consistent state- 
ment of one-point perspective than any earlier work in 
Western art. It is not a painting, of course, but a three- 
dimensional relief that was to be placed on the base of the 
baptismal font and would, therefore, be seen from above 
at a rather sharp angle. To use a perspective scheme that 
coordinated with the observer’s high viewpoint would 



7.18. DONATELLO. Feast of Herod. 1423-27. Gilded bronze, 23 V 2 " (60 cm) square, ft Panel on the Baptismal Pont, Baptistery, Siena. 


TRANSITIONS IN TUSCAN SCULPTURE • 197 



7.19. LORENZO GHIBERTI, DONATELLO, JACOPO DELLA QUERCIA, and others. 
Baptismal Font. 1416-31. Marble, gilded bronze, and colored enamel. Baptistery, Siena. 


have demanded architecture that was sharply distorted. 
Instead, Donatello placed his vanishing point, which can 
be established by tracing floor lines, moldings, and the 
recession of capitals and lintels, in the center of the relief. 
But Donatello, always an enemy of regularity, introduced 
so many different levels of recession that it is impossible to 
trace the perspective scheme he used. He also created, in 
the wall directly behind the figures, two curious openings 
that recede at angles counter to that of the perspective 
scheme. By interrelating the square slabs of the inlaid floor 


diagonally, so that the extended diagonal of one becomes 
the diagonal of the square in the next row, he imposes on 
the basic system of orthogonals, which meet at a vanishing 
point within the frame, two secondary systems of diago- 
nals that meet at other vanishing points to either side, 
outside the frame. This produces an external control for 
establishing a systematic diminution of the distance 
between the transversals in depth. These secondary 
systems are also a part of Alberti’s perspective theory. (For 
Alberti’s later formulation of perspective, see pp. 248^19.) 


198 


* 


THE QUATTROCENTO 





Nothing in Donatello’s architectural perspective, with its 
views through three successive levels separated by arches 
and piers, prepares us for what is happening in the fore- 
ground space. There the scheme is disrupted by the main 
event: the presentation of St. John’s severed head on a 
platter to Herod. The moment Donatello has chosen is the 
explosion of an emotional grenade that produces a wave of 
shock among the spectators. Herod shrinks back; a guest 
expostulates; another recoils, covering his face with his 
hand; two children scramble away, then stop short and 
look back. At the right Salome continues her dance, but 
two attendants stare, one with his arm over the other’s 
shoulder. Donatello incorporates us and our position into 
his work, for, when the work is viewed from above, it 
becomes clear that the figures are grouped in a semicircle, 
with the center left open to express the explosive drama of 
the event. The perspective network of interlocking grids is 
half submerged in the rush of conflicting drapery folds. 
Donatello’s dramatic scene was to influence later artists, 
including Leonardo da Vinci, whose Last Supper (see fig. 
16.23) adopts and refines the dramatic principle on which 
this history-making relief was based. 

Jacopo della Quercia 

The fourth remarkable sculptor of the Early Renaissance 
was the Sienese Jacopo della Quercia (c. 1371/4P-1438), son 
of a goldsmith and wood engraver. If Vasari’s accounts of 
Jacopo’s early life are accurate, he must already have enjoyed 
a considerable career as a sculptor before taking part in the 
competition for the doors of the Florentine Baptistery in 1401, 
but little is preserved that can be attributed with certainty 


7.20. JACOPO DELLA QUERCIA. Preparatory drawing for the 
Fonte Gaia. 1409. Pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash, on 
vellum; 7 % x 8M" (19.9 x 21.4 cm). Metropolitan Museum of Art, 
New York. Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1949 (49.191). 

The second section of this drawing is preserved in the Victoria and 
Albert Museum in London. The fountain itself, located in Piazza del 
Campo across from Siena’s city hall, the Palazzo Pubblico, was 33 '4" 
wide and 19' 3" deep (10.17x5. 5 7m) and was commissioned by the 
commune of Siena. It was completed in 1419. Because of the use 
of poor-quality stone, the damaged figures and reliefs have been 
removed and are now in the museum at the former hospital of Sta. 
Maria della Scala in Siena. 


to his early period. The major sculptural cycle from his 
middle period is the Fonte Gaia in Siena, a public fountain 
in Siena’s main square, the Piazza del Campo (see fig. 1.9). 

The fountain’s name, which means “gay” or “happy,” 
was taken from an earlier fountain on the same site and 
suggests the importance of a reliable water supply in the 
city. Jacopo’s elaborate decoration further demonstrates 
the importance of this project for Siena. Because the foun- 
tain was carved of soft stone and the sculptures were 
damaged over time, we illustrate a rare surviving drawing 
of the left third of the fountain (fig. 7.20). While Ghiberti’s 
drawing for the Flagellation (see fig. 7.7) was made as the 
sculptor was planning his composition, the finished detail 
we see here suggests that Jacopo’s may have been a pres- 
entation drawing, made to be shown to and approved by 
the representatives of the commune of Siena who were the 
fountain’s patrons. This and a second drawing that shows 
the right section of the fountain may have originally been 
preserved as legal documents because they recorded what 
the artist proposed and the commune approved. 

The water poured into a central rectangular basin from 
multiple spigots in walls decorated with high-relief sculp- 
tures. The central niche, not seen in this drawing, con- 
tained the Virgin and Child, the Virgin being the patron 
saint of Siena. Four of the eight civic virtues (Wisdom, 
Hope, Fortitude, Prudence, Justice, Humility, Temperance, 
and Faith) that surrounded her are included in the sketch. 
Reliefs at either end (not seen here) represented the Cre- 
ation of Adam and the Expulsion from Eden, references to 
the “original sin” from which Mary and Christ redeemed 
humankind and from which believers are liberated through 
baptism, the sacrament of water. 



TRANSITIONS IN TUSCAN SCULPTURE * T 99 



On high bases on either side of the fountain were two 
standing female figures, each with two children. Their 
identity is not certain, but one theory holds that they 
represent Rea Silvia, the mother of Romulus and Remus 
(fig. 7.21), and Acca Larenzia, the wet nurse of the twins. 
(Remus was considered to be the father of Senus, founder 
of the city of Siena.) More recently the women have been 
identified as Divine and Public Charity. Whatever their 
iconographic meaning, these maternal figures with babies 
must be seen as representations of fertility, especially when 
understood in the context of life-giving water at a public 
fountain. In these figures Jacopo builds upon his knowl- 
edge of the Renaissance movement in Florence, adding a 
sensuous treatment of the female body not yet seen in Flo- 
rentine art. A sense of organic life is conveyed not just by 
the subtle contrapposto and the lively movement of the 
babies, but also by the swelling contours of the group as 
a whole. With a surprisingly meditative expression, 
the figure of Rea SilviaiPublic Charity looks sharply down- 
ward, making eye contact with the Sienese citizens 
who would come to the fountain daily to get water. A 
comparison with the figure in the drawing shows how 
dramatically Quercia changed his composition as the 
work developed. 

In many respects, the art of Jacopo della Quercia is a 
curious phenomenon. He had little interest in the new clas- 
sicizing architectural motifs of the Florentine Renaissance, 
paying no attention to its spatial harmonies, and his rare 
landscape elements remained Giottesque to the end of his 
days. Yet in his reliefs for the portal of San Petronio at 
Bologna (fig. 7.22), he projected a world of action in 
which figures of superhuman strength struggle and collide. 
In the Creation of Adam (fig. 7.23), for example, a solemn, 
long-bearded Creator with a triangular halo gathers about 
him a mantle with sweeping folds that suggest the power 
of Donatello’s and Nanni’s drapery yet none of their 
feeling for real cloth. With his right hand the Creator 
confers on Adam a living souk The figure of Adam, whose 
name in Hebrew means “earth,” is understood as part of 
the ground from which he is about to rise. Unlike Ghib- 
erti’s delicately constructed nudes (see fig. 10.13), this 
husky figure is broadly built and smoothly modeled. 
Jacopo may have patterned the pose and treatment of the 
figure after the classical Adam in a Byzantine ivory relief 
now in the Bargello in Florence. Jacopo’s noble figure, in 
turn, exercised a strong influence on the pose used by 
Michelangelo in the Creation of Adam on the Sistine 
Ceiling (see fig. 17.32). Jacopo’s heroic figures appealed to 
Michelangelo, who must have studied these reliefs 
during his two visits to Bologna. Of the garden itself, only 
the Tree of Knowledge, represented as a fig tree, is 
visible. A sense of muscular struggle dominates Jacopo’s 



7.21. JACOPO DELLA QUERCIA. Rea Silvia or Public Charity , 
from the Fonte Gaia. 1418-19. Marble, 5'4" (1.63 m). Museum at 
the former hospital of Sta. Maria della Scala, Siena. 


200 * THE QUATTROCENTO 




7.22. JACOPO DELLA QUERCJA. Main Portal. 1425-38. 
Commissioned by Louis Aleman, Archbishop of Arles and Papal 
l egate to Bologna, it S. Pctronio, Bologna. 


Expulsion (fig. 7.24), its composition roughly the same as 
that of his relief of the same subject on the Fonte Gaia. At 
San Petronio, however, the figures are well enough pre- 
served to exhibit the interplay of muscular forces and a 
remarkable physicality. Adam attempts to resist, but he is 
forcibly thrust away by a pugnacious angel. Eve’s pose is 
based on that of a Venus pudica , the modest Venus type 
favored by Greek sculptors and their Roman copyists. 

The innovations of these Early Renaissance sculptors 
changed the history of sculpture and had a powerful 
impact on the painters of the period, as we shall see in the 
next chapter. 


7.24. JACOPO DELLA QUERCIA. Expulsion, c. 1429-34. 
Marble, 39 x 36 V 4 " (99 x 92 cm) with frame, m Panel on Main 
Portal, S. Petronio, Bologna. 



7.23. JACOPO DELLA QUERCIA. Creation of Adam. 
c. 1429-34. Marble, 39 x 36 V 4 " (99 x 92 cm) with frame. 
m Panel on Main Portal, S. Petronio, Bologna. 



TRANSITIONS IN TUSCAN SCULPTURE 


2 0 1 




5 

TRANSITIONS IN FLORENTINE 

PAINTING 


D uring the first two decades of the Quat- 
trocento, when Florentine sculptors 
were already creating works in the new 
Renaissance style, painters were still 
producing altarpieces and fresco cycles 
in variants of the Gothic style. They were not concerned 
with the problems that inspired the sculptors, and today 
their works seem to belong to another era. In their midst 
there emerged, about 1420 or 1421, a non-Tuscan artist of 
extraordinary originality who, judging from the impor- 
tance of his commissions, must have created a sensation. 

Gentile da Fabriano 

Our earliest documentary reference to the painter Gentile 
da Fabriano (c. 1385P-1427), in 1408, reveals that he was 
living in Venice, far from his native town of Fabriano in 
the Marches. In the Doge’s Palace, Gentile painted a fresco, 
now lost, of a naval battle between the Venetians and the 
Holy Roman Emperor, Otto III, that took place in the 
midst of a great storm. Gentile’s depiction of the storm 
clouds, waves, and battle was said to have been so natura- 
listic that those who saw it were filled with terror; as we 
shall see, Gentile was a master of naturalistic landscape 
and atmospheric effects. 

Although many of Gentile’s works are lost, a splendidly 
preserved altarpiece in Florence (fig. 8.2) demonstrates his 
unique combination of International Style richness and 
naturalistic detail. Gentile’s patron for the Adoration of 
the Magi was Palla Strozzi, perhaps the richest man in the 
city. Narrative subjects were unusual for Florentine altar- 


pieces and the splendor of Gentile’s treatment was 
unprecedented, but the destined location of the panel in a 
sacristy justified both subject and splendor. The Adoration 
of the Magi marks the moment when the infant Christ was 
first shown to the Gentiles, and a sacristy is the area where 
the clergy robe themselves and prepare for saying the 
Mass, during which Christ becomes manifest in the 
Eucharist on the altar. The theme and the gorgeous gar- 
ments of the magi were thus appropriate. The frame recalls 
earlier Gothic examples (compare fig. 5.3), but here an 
exuberant vitality in the decorative elements unifies the 
forms and the painted areas in the various roundels and 
gables demonstrate a new interest in naturalism. The left 
and right gables feature roundels of the Annunciation , 
while in the central gable a youthful God blesses the scene. 
Prophets recline in the spandrels. In the predella, the 
Nativity , the Flight into Egypt , and the Presentation in the 
Temple appear almost as one continuous strip. The prolific 
ornamentation comes to a climax in the naturalistically 
represented flowers and fruits in the frames, which burst 
from their Gothic openings as if they are growing out over 
the gold itself. 

Three small scenes in the high arches of the main panel 
narrate earlier moments in the journey of the magi to Beth- 
lehem. In the left arch, the magi gaze at the star from a 
mountain top. Before them stretches a wavy sea, with ships 
waiting at the shore. In the central arch, the magi ride up 
a curving road toward the open gate of Jerusalem. In the 
right arch they are about to enter the walls of Bethlehem. 
In the foreground they arrive at their destination — the cave 
of Bethlehem, with ox, ass, and manger, the ruined shed, 


8.1. MASACCIO. St. Peter Baptizing the Neophytes . 1420s. Fresco, 8'1" X 5'8" (2.47 x 1.7 m). Brancacci Chapel, Sta. Maria del Carmine, 
Florence. See also figs. 8.7-8. 8. It has been suggested that the landscape in this scene was painted by Masolino. This fresco was painted in ten days. 


TRANSITIONS IN FLORENTINE PAINTING * 2-0 3 


and the modest family. The oldest magus prostrates 
himself before the Christ Child, his crown beside him on 
the ground; the second kneels and lifts his crown; the 
youngest, waiting his turn, still wears his. This right-to-left 


sequence as the magi approach Christ seems almost cine- 
matic. Attendants crowd the stage; some restrain horses, 
which are shown from both front and back, a composi- 
tional motif that will later become common in Italian art. 



8.2. GEdNTTFF DA FABR1 AlSO. Adoration of the Magi (Strozzi altarpiece). Dated May 1423. Panel, 9T0" x 9'3" (3 x 2.82 m). 

Uffizi Gallery, Florence. The right predella, the Presentation in the Temple , is a copy; the original is in the Louvre, Paris. Commissioned 
by Palla Strozzi for his family burial chapel, the Sacristy of Sta. Trinita, Florence. A biography of the banker Palla Strozzi was included 
in a compendium of the lives of famous Florentines written in the fifteenth century by the humanist and book-dealer Vespasiano da Bisticci. 


* 


2 0 4 


THE QUATTROCENTO 





Others toy with monkeys and leopards or release 
falcons. The panoramic views and the rendering of farms, 
distant houses, and vineyards suggest that Gentile may 
have seen Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Government series in 
Siena (see figs. 4.28^4-. 30). Gentile’s landscape back- 
grounds and realistic animals were also influenced by 
Lombard painting (see figs. 5.21, 15.5). Gentile can be 
classified as an International Gothic artist, but his art is 
distinct from that of Lorenzo Monaco and the other Late 
Gothic painters in Florence (see fig. 5.12). He was unin- 
terested in profiles, for example, and throughout his work 
line is understood as part of a directional flow not on the 
surface but in space, whether this flow is seen in the pro- 
cessions in the background, the fluid curves of a horse’s 
massive body, or the undulating drapery of silks, velvets, 
and other fine fabrics. 

The birds and animals in the Adoration are represented 
with scrupulous naturalism, while the figures have a new 
psychological realism. Irreverent attendants exchange 
glances and, it seems, jokes as their royal masters are 
caught up in worship, or they look upward in suspense at 
a pair of fighting birds. The two midwives, like some 
guests at a wedding, examine one of the gifts as if to assess 
its value. While chained monkeys chatter happily, the ox 
looks patiently down toward the Christ Child. Over the 
rim of a king’s halo the ass stares with enormous eyes, his 
ears lifted as if catching unaccustomed sounds. The care- 
fully observed dog in the right foreground, wearing a 
bejeweled collar, seems to be imitating the magi in adopt- 
ing a position of reverence toward the Christ Child — until 


the horse steps on him. In the background other dogs chase 
hares, horses prance and rear, one horse kicks another who 
then complains, and — in one astonishing detail — two sol- 
diers seem to be mugging a wayfarer. Gentile seems intent 
on re-creating the whole fabric of the visible world. 

His color is subdued and rich, full of subtle hints and 
reflections. He may have studied Florentine sculpture and 
perhaps even the paintings of Masaccio that we will be dis- 
cussing shortly; the modeling of some of the heads and the 
sharply foreshortened figure removing the spurs from the 
youngest king suggest this possibility. Nonetheless, within 
this display of visual richness and naturalism, certain basic 
archaisms remain. In the main panel of the altarpiece, 
Gentile shows little interest in recent investigations of 
space and illusionism: as in Trecento painting, his figures 
seem too large for their setting, gold leaf over molded 
gesso is used for the damasks and gilded ornaments, and 
the landscape carries us to a distant horizon only to end in 
a gold background. 

In the predella scenes below, however, Gentile makes a 
revolutionary break with tradition by abandoning the flat 
gold or undifferentiated blue background and representing 
a sky with atmosphere and natural light. The Nativity (fig. 
8.3), like that of Lorenzo Monaco (see fig. 5.13), is 
founded on the vision of St. Bridget, but in this painting 
the light effects are more natural. Although the pool of 
light emanating from the Christ Child is still a surface of 
gold leaf with incised rays, Gentile also represents the 
effects of this light as it shines upon the ceiling of the cave 
and the faces of the kneeling animals. After illuminating 



8.3. GENTILE DA FABRIANO. Nativity , on the predella of the Strozzi altarpiece (fig. 8.2). 1423. Panel, 12 V 4 x 29 V 2 " (32 x 75 cm). 


TRANSITIONS IN FLORENTINE PAINTING * 205 



8.4. GENTILE DA FABRIANO. Flight into Egypt , on the predella of the Strozzi altarpiece (fig. 8.2). 1423. Panel, I 2 V 4 x 43 V 4 " (32 x 110 cm). 


the Virgin, it casts her shadow on the shed and then casts 
the shadow of the shed itself upon the underside of the 
lean-to where the midwives have taken shelter — one 
curious, the other napping. This light even picks out the 
branches of the tree under which Joseph sleeps, making a 
pattern of light against the dark hills. A flood of gold, 
issuing from the angel announcing the news to the shep- 
herds, illuminates one portion of the hills; the other hills 
billow softly against a night sky dotted with shining stars. 

The exquisite attention to nature in this scene is still 
partly Trecentesque, for it is miraculous rather than 
natural light that illuminates the scene and casts the 
shadows (see fig. 3.30). Yet this is the first painting we 
know that contains the source of illumination within the 
picture and maintains its effect so consistently on the rep- 
resented objects; the supernatural is here treated as if it 
were natural. The little ruined structure is the same as the 
one painted in the principal panel above; the only differ- 
ence is that between December 25 (the birth of Jesus), in 
the predella, and January 6 (the arrival of the magi), in the 
main panel, the barren ground has brought forth flowering 
and fruit-laden trees. Apart from the religious meaning of 
the scene, the effect is both naturalistic and deeply poetic — 
especially the dark, distant hills and starry sky. 

Equally convincing is the Flight into Egypt (fig. 8.4). 
The little family, still attended by the midwives, moves 
along a pebbly road through a rich Tuscan landscape 
toward a distant city. A sun, raised in relief and gilded, 
lights the farms and hillsides, and the natural light that 
seems to wash over the fields, giving the effect of grain ripe 
for harvesting, is also represented through the use of gold 
leaf underlying the paint. Distant hills and towers rise 
against a soft, blue sky — the first natural daytime sky we 
know in Italian art. Darker toward the zenith, lighter 
toward the horizon, it is clearly represented with atmos- 
pheric perspective. Drifting clouds partly hide one fortified 


villa. So velvety is the landscape and so subtly does the 
light dance across rocks, pebbles, foliage, and people that 
we easily accept the scene as natural, in spite of the dis- 
proportionately large scale of the figures. 

Gentile’s stay in Florence was short, but his influence 
there was incalculable. As far as can be determined, he was 
the first Italian painter to implement the atmospheric 
discoveries made by Donatello and realized in northern 
Europe in the miniatures of the Limbourg brothers. He is 
also, as far as we know, the first Italian painter to depict 
consistently shadows cast by light from an identifiable 
source. Gentile put into practice Lorenzo Ghiberti’s 
maxim, “Nothing can be seen without light.” 

Masolino and Masaccio 

No artists in Florence in the early 1420s understood more 
clearly Gentile’s innovations than two painters who, in 
spite of being unlikely partners, collaborated on several 
works. They shared the name Tommaso and the nickname 
Maso, the Italian version of “Tom.” One was known as 
Masolino (“Little,” or “Refined,” Tom), the other as 
Masaccio (the suffix “accio” in Italian usually means 
“ugly” or “bad” but it can also mean something big and 
impressive). Perhaps these nicknames were coined to dis- 
tinguish the two according to appearance, character, or 
style. Masolino, little concerned with the problems and 
ideals that inspired the sculptors of the time, created an 
artificial world of refined shapes and elegant manners, 
flowerlike colors, and unreal distances. Masaccio, on the 
other hand, seems to have been uninterested in traditional 
notions of beauty. One of the revolutionary painters of the 
Western tradition, he was profoundly influenced by the 
world of space, emotion, and action that contemporary 
sculptors had discovered. Yet the two artists managed to 
work together. 


2 0 6 


THE QUATTROCENTO 


Tommaso di Cristofano Fini — Masolino — was born 
about 1400 in Panicale in the upper Valdarno (Arno 
Valley). He joined the Arte dei Medici e Speziali in 1423. 
Much of his life was spent away from Florence; his most 
adventurous trip took him to Hungary in the service of the 
Florentine condottiere Pippo Spano, from September 1425 
to July 1427. Later he worked in Rome and then, about 
1435, in the Lombard village of Castiglione Olona, where 
he probably died in 1436. Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di 
Mone Cassai — Masaccio — was born in 1401 in what is 
today San Giovanni Valdarno, not far from Panicale. In 
January 1422 he joined the guild in Florence and worked 
there and, in 1426, in Pisa. In 1428 he went to Rome, 
where he died either later that year or in 1429. 

The old tradition that Masolino was Masaccio’s teacher 
was laid to rest by the discovery of an early work by 
Masaccio, a Madonna and Child with Saints (fig. 8.5) in a 
small church at Cascia di Reggello, on the slopes of the 
mountain mass that dominates Masaccio’s native town. 
The painting shows Masaccio as a young artist with a per- 
sonal style that is uniquely his own, without any recourse 
to the traditions that characterize the style of Masolino. 
The roughness, impulsiveness, and freedom exhibited in 
this triptych, dated April 23, 1422, seem to justify Vasari’s 


account of Masaccio as an artist who cared nothing about 
material considerations — neither the clothes he wore, the 
food he ate, the lodgings he inhabited, nor the money he 
received — so completely was he on fire with “le cose 
dell’arte” (literally, “the things of art”). The twenty-one- 
year-old artist painted a rather stiff Madonna, with a high 
forehead, staring eyes, and a weak chin, on a traditional 
inlaid marble throne. The Christ Child, homely and stiff- 
limbed, holds a bunch of grapes and a veil and, like a real 
baby, stuffs two fingers into his mouth. Two angels kneel 
facing the throne so that their faces are almost completely 
lost from view — a pose known as lost profile, which 
directs the viewer’s attention into the illusion of depth. The 
angels’ wings preserve the traditional rainbow gradations, 
but the feathers are as disheveled as those of urban spar- 
rows. On either side stand pairs of morose saints. Under 
the guise of this naturalism, the triptych still discloses its 
traditional religious content, for the grapes Christ holds 
are a symbol of the Eucharist. 

Little trace remains in the triptych of the Gothic or of 
Ghiberti’s mellifluous folds (see fig. 7.8), and at first sight 
there appears no influence of Gentile either. But Gentile is 
documented in Florence already in 1420, and it may have 
been his style that suggested to the young painter the 



8.5. MASACCIO. Madonna and Child with Saints. 1422. Panel, 42 V2 x 6OV2" (1 x 1.5 m). Uto S. Giovenale, Cascia di Reggello. 


TRANSITIONS IN FLORENTINE PAINTING 


2 0 7 


sketchiness with which he painted the wings of the angels 
and the hair and beards of the saints. But already Masac- 
cio has gone farther than Gentile. The hands and limbs and 
the folds of the angels’ tunics in Masaccio’s painting exist 
as forms defined by direct ordinary daylight. Already at 
twenty-one years of age, Masaccio had assimilated the 
lesson of Donatello’s St. George and the Dragon (see fig. 
7.14), carved only one or two years earlier. 

One year later, in 1423, Masolino signed a dainty 
Madonna and Child (fig. 8.6). Its style, closely related to 
that of Lorenzo Monaco and of Ghiberti, shows no trace 
of Masaccio’s brutal realism. The delicately modeled fea- 
tures of the Virgin are typical of Masolino’s female faces 



8.6. MASOLINO. Madonna and Child. 1423. Panel, 37 3 A x 20 V 2 " 
(96 x 52 cm). Kunsthalle, Bremen. The frame is original. 


throughout his career, while the sweetness of the Christ 
Child, the tenderness with which he touches the Virgin’s 
neck, and the easy curvilinear flow of the drapery are all 
within the conventions of conservative Florentine style. 
Only the modeling of the round forms in light and shade 
suggests that Masolino too was aware of the new develop- 
ments in painting. 

THE BRANCACCI CHAPEL. The most important 
manifesto of a new pictorial style was the decoration of 
the Brancacci family chapel in the Carmelite Church of 
Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence with a cycle by 
Masaccio and Masolino (figs. 8.7-8.16) that would 
become a model for generations of later Florentine artists, 
including Michelangelo. 

In the cloister alongside the church, Masaccio had 
earlier painted a celebrated fresco of the church’s conse- 
cration that included a procession of contemporary, recog- 
nizable Florentines. This influential work was destroyed; 
only a few drawings of it by later artists survive, including 
one by the youthful Michelangelo, whose nose was broken 
in a fistfight here while he was studying the frescoes. 

The Brancacci Chapel also suffered losses over time. 
In the mid-eighteenth century, the paintings of the vault 
and lunettes were destroyed and replaced with a dome fres- 
coed in that era’s style. In 1771, a fire devastated much of 
the church; the Brancacci Chapel suffered only small areas 
of loss but the rest of the church was largely destroyed. 

Because of evidence suggesting that the lost vault and 
lunette frescoes, where painting would have begun, were 
by Masolino, it has been proposed that he alone received 
the original commission and was later joined by Masaccio, 
but this is by no means certain, especially given the manner 
in which they often worked together on other projects. The 
dating of the chapel frescoes is also uncertain, with some 
scholars placing them all in 1424-25, before Masolino’s 
trip to Hungary and Masaccio’s stay in Pisa in 1426, and 
others suggesting that work continued in 1427-28. Some 
suggest that the two painters worked together at some time 
during the fall of 1427 and/or the spring of 1428. Whether 
Brunelleschi also played a role in designing the chapel’s 
frescoes is uncertain, but they are framed with pilasters 
and entablatures in the new, Brunelleschian style (see fig. 
8.9). It is also unclear how much of the cycle was left 
unfinished when the two painters departed for Rome in the 
spring of 1428; physical evidence suggests that portraits of 
the Brancacci patrons may have been destroyed after the 
family was exiled in 1435. In any case, Filippino Lippi was 
brought in to finish the frescoes in the chapel in the early 
1480s. A restoration during the 1980s removed layers of 
grime, revealing colors that represent a return to Giotto 
and subtle atmospheric and landscape details. 


208 


THE QUATTROCENTO 




8.7. MASACCIO, MASOLINO, and FILIPPINO LIPPI. Fresco cycle. Brancacci Chapel, Sta. Maria del Carmine, Florence. 

The miracle-working icon on the altar of the Brancacci Chapel is known as St. Mary of the People (Santa Maria del Popolo). It was in Sta. 
Maria del Carmine by 1315, but was probably moved into the chapel only in 1422. Between 1422 and 1434 the chapel was owned by Felice 
Brancacci, the nephew of Pietro di Piuvichese Brancacci (d. 1366/67), who founded the chapel. The money to pay for the frescoes may have 
been the 200 florins left to the monks of the Carmine by Pietro’s son Antonio when he died c. 1383/90. Another possible source for funds was 
Pietro’s widow, Mona Ghetta, who died c. 1414. If these earlier legacies were depleted, it is possible that Felice, as owner of the chapel, also 
participated in funding his family burial chapel. Felice, who served as the Florentine ambassador to Cairo in the early 1420s, fled Florence, 
never to return, when Cosimo de’ Medici returned from exile in 1434. His property was confiscated. 


TRANSITIONS IN FLORENTINE PAINTING 


z o 9 



The chapel frescoes, with two exceptions, represent 
scenes from the life of St. Peter, the first pope (figs. 
8. 7-8. 8). Since the founding patron of the chapel was 
named Pietro, the choice of his patron saint for the fresco 
cycle is not unexpected. At the same time, certain aspects 
of the cycle can be related to the history of the Carmelite 
Order, suggesting that the clergy at the church may also 
have played a role in the choice and interpretation of 
the theme. 

The most problematic of the frescoes in terms of theme 
is probably the most famous: Masaccio’s Tribute Money 
(figs. 8.9-8.10), a subject (Matthew 17:24-27) that was 
seldom represented. When Christ and the apostles arrived 
at Capernaum, Peter was confronted by a Roman tax- 
gatherer who demanded the usual half-drachma tribute. 
Peter, returning to Christ for instructions, was told that he 
would find the money in the mouth of a fish near the shore 
of Lake Galilee. He caught the fish, collected the money, 
and paid the Roman official, who then departed. 

Out of this episode, Masaccio built a scene of great 
solemnity. He also revised the story. In the middle of the 
fresco the tax-collector comes directly before Christ and 
the apostles, who are represented not “at home,” as in the 
text, but standing in a semicircle before a landscape that 
suggests the river plain where Florence is located. Peter 
points to our left, indicating that Christ has directed him 
to Lake Galilee. There, in the background, Peter finds the 
fish in shallow water, and on the far right, in the fore- 


ground, he pays what is due. Center stage is, therefore, 
occupied by the confrontation of temporal and spiritual 
power. As Christ speaks to the apostles, their faces betray 
surprise, indignation, and concern. 

The assessment and payment of taxes has a complex 
social and political history. One aspect of the Florentine 
debate was whether the clergy could be taxed, a problem 
for which the story of the Tribute Money provides a bibli- 
cal precedent. Whether or not there is an explicit Floren- 
tine reference here, Masaccio placed the scene on the banks 
of the Arno. His semicircular arrangement of heavily 
cloaked figures may have been influenced by Nanni di 
Banco’s impressive Four Crowned Martyrs (see fig. 7.15). 
Masaccio’s noble and bold figures certainly suggest that 
the young artist had studied the behavior of light on the 
figures, faces, and drapery masses of the powerful figures 
created by contemporary Florentine sculptors. 

In his landscape, however, Masaccio has surpassed 
sculptors and painters alike. The panoramas of Ambrogio 
Lorenzetti and Andrea da Firenze had been depicted partly 
from above and always ended in a flat, abstract back- 
ground, as if the mountains and trees were placed in front 
of an impenetrable wall (see figs. 4.30, 5.1). Masaccio, 
adopting Donatello’s low point of view and atmospheric 
distance, produced a landscape of a grandeur unknown 
before his time. The wide plane of the impenetrable wall is 
here dissolved, as it was in the tiny predella panel of the 
Flight into Egypt in Gentile’s Strozzi altarpiece (see fig. 



8.8. Iconographic diagram of the fresco cycle at the Brancacci Chapel, Sta. Maria del Carmine, Florence. Diagram by Sarah Cameron Loyd. 
The thumbnail picture included for orientation is Masaccio’s Tribute Money (see fig. 8.9). 


210 * THE QUATTROCENTO 



8.9. MASACCIO. Tribute Money. 1420s. Fresco, 8'1" x 197" 
(2.47 x 5.97 m). Brancacci Chapel, Sta. Maria del Carmine, Florence. 
The head of Christ is painted on one of the last giomate of the 
fresco, probably because this is where a nail, driven into the plaster, 
had been used as the fulcrum for a string employed to determine the 
perspective recession of the building to the right. The head of Christ 
is in the style of Masolino and some have suggested that it was 
actually painted by him. This fresco was painted in thirty-one days. 


8.4). The view recedes harmoniously, with none of 
Gentile’s medieval leaps in scale, past the plain and the 
riverbanks, over ridges and distant mountains, some snow- 
capped, to the sky and the clouds. 

Within this landscape, Masaccio’s rugged figures stand 
and move at their ease. Both figures and landscape are rep- 
resented with the full power of the new style that Masac- 
cio has developed. Objects, forms, faces, figures, and 
masses of heavy drapery all exist in light, which models 
them and sets them convincingly in space. The light is one 
of the great innovations in this fresco, for it is not only 
consistent — coming from what seems to be a single 
source — but it seems to come from the right, where the 
actual window of the chapel is located, so that natural 
light illuminates the fresco from the same direction, greatly 
enhancing its naturalism. 

The background is filled with atmosphere. Misty 
patches of woodland are sketched near the banks. Masac- 
cio’s brush seems to have moved with a new ease and 
freedom, representing not hairs but hair, not leaves but 
foliage, not waves but water, not physical entities but 
optical impressions. At times the brush seems to have 
applied paint in a manner similar to that used by such 
nineteenth-century Impressionists as Edouard Manet or 
Claude Monet. 


Masaccio depicts the apostles as Florentines — not the 
officials of the Florentine oligarchy but “men of the 
street,” like the artisans and peasants on whose support 
the republic depended (fig. 8.10). They are painted with 
conviction and sympathy — sturdy youths and bearded 
older men, rough-featured, each a unique personality. As 
if to symbolize both the spatial existence of the figures 
and the individuality of the personalities, their haloes are 



8.10. Head of St Peter , detail of fig. 8.9. 


TRANSITIONS IN FLORENTINE PAINTING * 211 


projected in perspective and touch or overlap at random 
angles. The tax-collector, who is seen from the rear in 
contrapposto , is as astonished as the apostles at the 
message of Christ. 

On the same upper tier, just to the right of the altar, 
Masaccio painted St. Peter Baptizing the Neophytes (see 
fig. 8.1), the scene set at a cold mountain spring high in the 
headwaters of the Arno. Here the artist shows himself the 
equal of Ghiberti and Jacopo della Quercia (see figs. 7.3, 
7.23-7.24) in the representation of the nude figure; subse- 
quent generations were impressed by the realism of the 
shivering figure awaiting his turn, the man drying himself 
with a towel, and the muscular youth kneeling in the fore- 
ground, over whose head St. Peter pours the cold water. 
Painted with broad strokes, this figure conveys a sense of 
what it would be like to be cold and almost naked in the 
presence of inhospitable nature. The massive figures are 
defined by Masaccio’s new chiaroscuro technique — 
smooth and consistent in the surfaces of legs, chests, and 
shoulders, strikingly sketchy in the heads in the back- 
ground. The figures of the two young men at the extreme 
left, who are wearing the Florentine cappuccio wrapped 
around an underlying framework, a mazzocchio (see fig. 
11.4), appear to be portraits. 

Masolino’s principal contribution to the upper tier is the 
fresco opposite the Tribute Money , the Healing of the 
Lame Man and the Raising of Tabitha (fig. 8.11), two 


miracles performed by St. Peter in Lydda and Joppa. 
Although it would have been difficult for Masolino, given 
his dual subject, to create a composition as close-knit and 
unified as that of Masaccio’s Tribute Money , the two fres- 
coes were constructed using the same perspective scheme, 
with the vanishing point at the same height within each 
fresco; perhaps the two painters were working on the two 
facing scenes simultaneously. Masolino telescoped the 
space between the two scenes with a continuous Florentine 
city background, its simple houses, projected in perspec- 
tive, now sometimes attributed to Masaccio. On the left St. 
Peter and St. John, with haloes still parallel to the picture 
plane, command the lame man to rise and walk; on the 
right they appear in the home of Tabitha (on the ground 
floor, not the upper story mentioned in the text) and raise 
her from the dead. The two elegantly dressed young men 
in the center are the messengers sent from Joppa to fetch 
St. Peter and St. John with the greatest speed, even though 
their impassive faces reveal no sense of urgency. 

Masolino’s drapery lacks both the fullness and the sup- 
pleness of Masaccio’s, and there is little sense of the under- 
lying figure. Expressions seem forced, and the drama 
unconvincing. The representation of light, however, is 
sophisticated; rocks scattered on the ground cast shadows 
that are directly related to the placement of the window 
within the chapel. In addition to emphasizing the consis- 
tent light source and adding another measurable element 



8.11. MASOLINO. Healing of the Lame Man and the Raising of Tabitha. 1420s. Fresco, 8’1" x 19'3" (2.47 x 5.9 m). Brancacci Chapel, Sta. 
Maria del Carmine, Florence. This fresco was painted in thirty days. 


212 * THE QUATTROCENTO 


to the spatial recession, they may also be a reference to St. 
Peter, whose name means “stone” and who is recognized 
as the “rock” on which the Roman Church was founded. 

To modern eyes the divergent styles of the two friends 
collide abruptly in the scenes representing the Temptation 
(fig. 8.12) and Expulsion (fig. 8.13), which face each other 
across the entrance arch. Masolino and Masaccio may well 


have found the division of labor reasonable — to Masolino 
the less dramatic scene, to Masaccio a moment of personal 
and universal tragedy. Restoration has removed leaves that 
were added later to cover the figures’ genitals, and Adam 
and Eve are represented as naked. How these scenes are 
related to the main cycle has been much debated; but 
perhaps the reason for their inclusion was based on the 



S.12. MASOLINO. Temptation. 1420s. Fresco, 7' x 2 1 1 1 1 
,214 x 89 cm). Brancacci Chapel, Sta. Maria del Carmine, 
Florence. This fresco was painted in six days. 



8.13. MASACCIO. Expulsion. 1420s. 7' x 2T1 
(214 x 89 cm). Brancacci Chapel, Sta. Maria del 
Carmine. This fresco was painted in four days. 


TRANSITIONS IN FLORENTINE PAINTING * 21 3 





idea that the Church, under Peter and the papacy, is the 
institution that helps humanity overcome the sin of Adam 
and Eve. Whatever the theological or historical basis for 
their inclusion, these paired nude figures are not usually a 
part of the Peter legend. 

Masolino painted a gentle Adam and an equally mild 
Eve, undisturbed by the trouble that is about to ensue. She 
throws one arm lightly around the tree trunk while, from 
the bough above, the serpent’s human head tries to attract 
her attention. Adam and Eve’s flesh appears naturally soft, 
but the feet hang instead of support, and the figures are so 
elegantly silhouetted against the dark background that 
they seem like cut-outs. 

Masaccio’s Expulsion was perhaps influenced by Jacopo 
della Quercia’s relief on the Fonte Gaia, which is similar in 
composition to, the one in Bologna (see fig. 7.24), but the 
painter infused the scene with even greater intensity. He 
abandoned the physical contest between the angel and 
Adam; now a calm, celestial messenger hovers above the 
gate, holding a sword in one hand and pointing with the 
other to the barren world outside Eden. Adam moves forth 
at the angel’s bidding as if driven by his shame. He ignores 
his nakedness to bury his face in his hands (fig. 8.14). His 
mouth contorts in anguish and the muscles of his abdomen 
convulse. Eve remembers to cover her nakedness, but she 
throws her head back, her mouth open in a cry of despair. 
The drama has been reduced to its essential elements: two 
naked, suffering humans pushed out into the cold 
unknown, forced from an idyllic garden to face a future of 
work and then death. 



8.14. MASACCIO. Heads of Adam and of Eve, detail of fig. 8.13. 


The scenes in the lower register flanking the altar, both 
by Masaccio, share a common perspective that converges 
behind the altarpiece. On the left is St. Peter Healing with 
His Shadow (fig. 8.15), a subject as rare as the Tribute 
Money and one that would have been impossible to repre- 
sent before cast shadows entered the artistic repertory. The 
setting is a Florentine alley with projecting rooms sup- 
ported on struts. As the architecture recedes, St. Peter 
walks toward us, not even looking at the sick over whom 
his shadow passes. The vivid face of the lame man at the 
lower left is an unforgettable example of Masaccio’s obser- 
vation. Masaccio’s 1427 tax declaration, written in his 
own hand, is preserved, and the words are set out with a 
simple dignity that seems consistent with the narrative 
interpretation seen in this fresco. Some of the heads seem 
to be portraits; it has been suggested that the bearded man 
in a short blue smock is a portrait of Donatello. 



8.15. MASACCIO. St. Peter Healing with His Shadow. 1420s. 
Fresco, 7'7" x 5'4" (2.3 x 1.6 m). Brancacd Chapel, Sta. Maria del 
Carmine. This fresco was painted in ten days. 


* 


2 14 


THE QUATTROCENTO 



In Masaccio’s Raising of the Son of Theophilus and the 
Enthronement of St . Peter (fig. 8.16), the artist has 
adopted an S-shaped plan in depth for the figures, with one 
group centered around the miracle at the left, the other 
around Peter being adored by Carmelites at the right. 
These curves, one moving toward us, the other away, are 
locked in a rectilinear architectural enclosure, formed 
partly by the palace of Theophilus, partly by the austere 
architectural block before which St. Peter is enthroned. 

The presence of the Carmelites in the same scene as Peter 
may be a reference to a contemporary debate about the 
origin of the Carmelites: while members of the order 
argued that it had been founded by the prophet Elijah and 
that some members were baptized by Peter himself, detrac- 
tors maintained that the order had been founded in the 
twelfth century in the Holy Land. By representing 
Carmelites worshipping St. Peter, Masaccio supported the 
Carmelite account of their ancient origins. 

The architectural setting is by Masaccio, as are most of 
the figures except for the five at the extreme left, eight in 
the central section, and the delicate kneeling boy, all of 
whom, style suggests, were painted by Filippino Lippi. The 


palace of Theophilus shows the inspiration of Brunelleschi 
in the Corinthian pilasters and pedimented windows, 
which resemble those of the Ospedale degli Innocenti (see 
fig. 6.13). The wall divided into repeated panels of inlaid 
colored marble that forms the back of the scene is 
enlivened by the freely painted trees and potted plants that 
are placed in an asymmetrical sequence against the sky. 

The composition is abstract and geometric. The masses 
of the figures, projected so convincingly in depth and light, 
are fixed within the patterns of the embracing curvilinear 
and rectilinear framework within which they are set. Only 
the central St. Peter (by Masaccio, with the exception of 
the outstretched hand) is free to move and act. The 
meaning of the fresco is reduced to simple and impelling 
terms: St. Peter appears twice, at the two foci of the S-plan; 
other mortals, including Theophilus, are only incidental 
elements in the structures that revolve around the Church. 

THE PISA POLYPTYCH. Masaccio worked in Pisa 
from February to December of 1426 on a polyptych for a 
Pisan church. At an unknown date it was dismembered, the 
panels scattered and some lost. The effect of the surviving 



8.16. MASACCIO (some areas painted by FILIPPINO LIPPI). Raising of the Son of Theophilus and the Enthronement of St. Peter . 1420s; 
completed early 1480s. Fresco, 7'7" x 19'7" (2.3 x 6 m). Brancacci Chapel, Sta. Maria del Carmine. 

The third figure from the right, who is staring out at us, is presumed to be a portrait of Masaccio. Masaccio’s part in this fresco was completed 
in thirty- two days. Filippino, who usually spent a full day painting one of the portraits, spent another twenty-two days completing it. 


TRANSITIONS IN FLORENTINE PAINTING * 2I 5 


central panel, the Enthroned Madonna and Child 
(fig. 8.17), is so overwhelming that it is a surprise to dis- 
cover its modest dimensions. The looming monumentality 
of the Virgin reveals Masaccio’s ability to elevate human 
figures, with all their physical defects, to a level of 
grandeur and power. 

Some of the majesty of the figure doubtless derives from 
the fact that we read the two-story throne with its 
Corinthian columns as a work of architecture, imagining 
gigantic proportions for its occupant by analogy. The 
influence of Brunelleschi, if not his involvement, is again 
evident. The Madonna towers above the cornice, her blue 



8.17. MASACCIO. Enthroned Madonna and Child , from the Pisa 
polyptych. 1426. Panel, 53V4 x 28 3 /4" (135 x 73 cm). National 
Gallery, London. Commissioned by Giuliano di Ser Colino degli 
Scarsi, a notary, for Sta. Maria del Carmine, Pisa. 


cloak falling in heavy folds about the bold masses of her 
shoulders and knees. Perhaps Masaccio made a model 
throne and a clay figure with cloth arranged over it to 
chart the behavior of light and shade; we know that this 
was done by Andrea del Verrocchio and his pupils later in 
the century. This could help explain the accuracy with 
which Masaccio has painted the shadows cast on the 
throne by its projecting wings and by the Virgin herself. 
The faces conform to a type seen over and over again in 
Masaccio’s work. The Christ Child, now totally nude, is 
again behaving like a baby, eating the Eucharistic grapes 
offered him by his mother (see fig. 8.5). 

The panel is damaged; here and there passages of paint 
have broken away, but worse is the overcleaning, which 
has reduced the face of the Virgin to its underpaint. The 
throne seems to built of pietra serena , the same gray stone 
used by Brunelleschi. Its details, including the rosettes and 
the S-shaped strigil ornament (imitated from ancient and 
medieval sarcophagi still in Pisa; see Nicola Pisano’s 
manger, fig. 2.20), are strongly projected, while the lutes in 
the hands of the two angels demonstrate how skillfully 
Masaccio could foreshorten complex objects; this interest 
in recession and projection of forms in space again evokes 
the impact of Brunelleschi. The haloes are set parallel to 
the picture plane with the exception of that of the Christ 
Child, which is foreshortened in depth. Unless this curious 
juxtaposition of the planar and the foreshortened has a 
meaning not yet discovered, it endures as an example of 
the transitional nature of painting during the 1420s. 

In designing the Crucifixion (fig. 8.18), which formed 
the central pinnacle of the altarpiece, Masaccio seems to 
have started by determining the spot where the observer 
must stand to see the figures and forms correctly. The 
cross, for example, is seen from below, and the body of 
Christ is foreshortened upward, with the collarbones pro- 
jecting in silhouette. The face inclines forward, looking 
down into the upturned face of the spectator, as does the 
figure of God the Father above Donatello’s St. George 
niche (see fig. 7.13). The gold background may have been 
stipulated by the patron, but the sense of mass and space 
created by Masaccio is so convincing that the gold no 
longer seems completely flat; it sinks into the distance to 
become an illusion of golden air behind the figures. The 
bush growing from the top of the cross once contained a 
pelican striking her breast to feed her young, a medieval 
symbol for the sacrifice of Christ. 

The sacrifice is Masaccio’s theme, rather than the his- 
torical incident, which is here reduced to four figures. The 
Magdalen prostrates herself before the cross, her arms 
thrown wide, while John the Evangelist, wrapped in grief, 
seems to shrink into himself. Masaccio’s Mary stands with 
dignity under the cross, her hands folded in prayer. Christ, 


2 1 6 


THE QUATTROCENTO 


pale in death, his eyes closed and the crown of thorns low 
upon his brow, seems to be suffering still. The Christus tri- 
umphans of the twelfth century, the Christus patiens of the 
Duecento, and the Christus mortuus of Giotto and his 



Above : 8.18. MASACCIO. Crucifixion , from the summit of the 
Pisa polyptych. 1426. Panel, 30V4 x 25V4 n (77 x 64 cm). Museo di 
Capodimonte, Naples. 


followers in the Trecento are fused and transfigured by 
Masaccio’s new humane vision. And in these four small 
figures, Masaccio achieves a drama of Aeschylean simplic- 
ity and power. All the grandeur of the Brancacci frescoes is 
here in miniature — all the beauty of light on the folds of 
drapery, all the breadth of anatomical masses, all the 
strength and sweetness of color. And nowhere more than 
in this panel did Masaccio’s style deserve the characteriza- 
tion given it in the later Quattrocento, when it was praised 
for being: “puro, senza ornato” (“pure, without ornament”). 

The epic breadth of Masaccio’s art is maintained even in 
the predellas. The Adoration of the Magi (fig. 8.19) may 
represent Masaccio’s comment on the profusion of 
Gentile’s Strozzi altarpiece (see fig. 8.2), painted only three 
years before, although the interval seems more like fifty. 
Masaccio has adopted an eye-level point of view. He fills 
the foreground with figures and then creates behind them 
a landscape of simple masses that recedes with more 
spatial conviction than the splendid miscellany of Gentile’s 
world. The distant bay and promontories suggest the sea 
coast near Pisa; the barren land masses may be based on 
the eroded region called Le Baize, near the Pisan fortress 
city of Volterra. The low viewpoint allows Masaccio to 
compose a magnificent pattern of masses and spaces using 
legs, both human and equine, and the flat shadows cast by 
these legs on the ground. Masaccio’s soberly clad kings 
arrive with only six attendants before the humble shed. 
The vividly portrayed patron, Giuliano di Ser Colino, and 
his son stand in contemporary costume just behind the 
kings, the patterns of their cloaks a part of the structure of 
the composition. Masaccio’s interest in foreshortening is 
evident everywhere: note, for example, the ox, ass, and 
saddle, all turned at various angles to the eye and therefore 
differently foreshortened, or the white horse who lifts one 
hind hoof gently and turns his head so that we can just 



8.19. MASACCIO. Adoration of the Magi, from the predella of the Pisa polyptych. 1426. Panel, 8 V 4 x 24" (21 x 61 cm). Gemaldegalerie, Berlin. 


TRANSITIONS IN FLORENTINE PAINTING ♦ 2 I 7 






8.20. MASACCIO. Crucifixion 
of St. Peter , from the predella of 
the Pisa polyptych. 1426. Panel, 
8^x12" (22x31 cm). 
Gemaldegalerie, Berlin. 


discern his beautiful right eye. Another example is the 
groom at the extreme right who leans over toward us. 

The same spatial principle is turned to dramatic effect in 
the Crucifixion of St Peter (fig. 8.20). This subject 
had presented difficulties for artists because St. Peter, to 
avoid irreverent comparison with Christ, had insisted on 
being crucified upside down. Masaccio meets the problem 
by underscoring it; the diagonals of Peter’s legs are 
repeated in the shapes of the two pylons, which seem to 
have been based on the ancient Pyramid of Gaius Cestius 
in Rome. Between the pyramids, the cross is locked into 
the composition. Within the small remaining space the exe- 
cutioners loom toward us with tremendous force as they 
hammer in the nails. Peter’s halo, upside down, is shown in 
perfect foreshortening. 

THE TRINITY FRESCO. What may be Masaccio’s 
most mature work is the fresco representing the central 
mystery of Christian doctrine, the Trinity (fig. 8.21), in 
Santa Maria Novella in Florence. To create the setting for 
the Trinity , Masaccio painted a magnificent Renaissance 
chapel. Its Corinthian pilasters and Ionic half-columns 
flanking a coffered barrel vault conform so closely to the 
architecture of Brunelleschi and are projected so accurately 
in terms of his perspective principles that Brunelleschi 
almost certainly must be credited with the design of this 
architectural illusion. The details of the capitals are 


painted with a precision atypical of Masaccio, further 
suggesting that in this area he had some assistance. In the 
narrow space in front of the pilasters kneel a man and 
woman; these portraits of the donors seem so specific that 
they must have been easily identifiable when they were 
first painted. 

Below the illusionistic chapel is a skeleton bearing the 
epitaph: “Io fu gia quel che voi siete e quel chio son voi 
anco sarete” (“I was once what you are, and what I am, 
you also will be”). The configuration of skeleton and text 
with the religious imagery above is obviously related to 
tomb iconography. As part of a funerary monument, the 
fresco would have been related to an altar where Mass 
could be said for the deceased. Such an altar table may 
have been installed in the space between the skeleton and 
the Trinity . 

While the patron and his wife are decisively placed 
in front of the enframing architecture to suggest that they 
exist within our space, the tomb enclosing the skeleton 
is painted to suggest that it exists partly in our space but is 
also partly recessed into the wall; by occupying both 
realms the skeleton reinforces the words of the inscription. 
The skeleton alludes not to the patron but to Adam, 
over whose tomb it was believed Christ had been crucified. 
Thus the fresco makes reference both to the original sin 
of Adam and Eve and to the redemptive power of 
Christ’s Crucifixion. 


2 I 8 


THE QUATTROCENTO 



8.21. MASACCIO. Trinity with Mary, John the Evangelist , and Two Donors . c. 1426-27. Fresco, 21' x 10'5" (6.4 x 3.17 m, including base). 
Sta. Maria Novella, Florence. It has recently been suggested that Masaccio’s fresco was part of a funerary complex dedicated to Berto di 
Bartolomeo di Berto and his family, the Berti. The giomate reveal that this fresco was painted in twenty-seven or twenty-eight days. 


TRANSITIONS IN FLORENTINE PAINTING * 219 



Within the illusionistic chapel, Masaccio has shown 
Golgotha reduced to symbolic terms — the sacrifice of 
Christ as carried out through the will of the Father, who 
stands on a kind of shelf toward the back of the chapel, 
gazing fixedly outward and steadying the cross with his 
hands. The figure of Christ is a Christus mortuus who 
seems to have endured pain and is now past suffering; he 
may be based on a wooden sculpture of the crucified 
Christ made by Brunelleschi about 1412-13 and also in 
Santa Maria Novella. The dove of the Holy Spirit flies 
between the heads of Father and Son. Below the cross, 
Mary does not look at her son but raises her hand to urge 
us to contemplate his sacrifice. She is somber and deter- 
mined, with no hint of the elegance or beauty with which 
she is sometimes endowed. St. John seems lost in adoration 
before the mystery. The portraits of the kneeling man and 
woman are stoically calm. Here Calvary has been stripped 
of its terrors. The kneeling Florentines pray to Mary and 
John, who intercede with Christ; Christ in turn atones for 
the sins of all humanity. 

The pyramidal composition of figures ascends from the 
mortals in our sphere, outside the arch, to God at its apex. 
The perspective of the coffered vault above, on the other 
hand, moves in the opposite direction to converge behind 
the lightly painted mound of Golgotha at the base of the 
cross, at exactly eye level. The ascending and descending 
pyramids intersect in the body of Christ. In its reduction to 
geometric essentials that unite figures and architecture, 
forms and spaces, the composition could hardly be more 
closely knit. Its power embodies the humanist Giannozzo 
Manetti’s contention that the truths of the Christian reli- 
gion are as clear as the axioms of mathematics. The com- 
position suggests that the Trinity is the root of all being. 

Within the imposing structure, the individual parts are 
powerfully projected to suggest three-dimensionality and a 
sense of mass. Details of arms, hands, and architecture 
reveal startling effects of three-dimensionality. Even the 
nails that impale Christ’s hands are painted to align with 
the perspective scheme. The surface is rendered with 
remarkable breadth and freedom. We can only speculate 
what Masaccio might have accomplished had he lived 
longer. When informed of his death, Brunelleschi is 
reported to have said, “Noi abbiamo fatto una gran 
perdita” (“We have had a great loss”). 

Popular Devotion and Prints 

The works of Masaccio represent a new and revolutionary 
departure in the history of art, breaking decisively with the 
Gothic style and providing a new simplicity and bold 
naturalism thaMvas influential. While some of Masaccio’s 
documented works are lost, including the panoramic 


fresco of the consecration of Santa Maria del Carmine 
that included portraits of many contemporary Florentines, 
and others were damaged, enough works survive to 
enable art historians to reconstruct his career and establish 
his significance. This is not always the case. Only 
infrequently, for example, have the relatively inexpensive 
artworks created for the middle and lower classes survived. 
When they do, the artists who created them usually 
remain unidentified. One rare example of the prints 
that circulated widely during this period is the Madonna 
del Fuoco , the “Madonna of the Fire,” a woodblock print 
that is so named because it survived a 1429 house fire and, 
as a result, became a relic in the local cathedral in Forli, 
north of Florence (fig. 8.22). The owner of the house is 
documented as Brusi da Ripetrosa, a schoolteacher, pro- 
viding proof that even a person of modest means could 
afford such a devotional object. While only a handful of 
authentic prints from this period survive, the fifteenth- 
century representation of woodblock prints pinned or 
pasted to the wall attests to their popularity and 
widespread use. 

The artist who created the Madonna del Fuoco , proba- 
bly considered an artisan by his contemporaries, is 
unknown, as is the Italian locale of the print’s creation. 
The central image of the Madonna and Child, however, 
has a boldness and simplicity that can be compared with 
the style of Masaccio. There is little interest here in the 
elegant draperies and curving lines of the International 
Gothic because clarity and the ability to identify the 
subject were foremost in the artist’s mind. The decorative 
framework is minimal (note the rounded arch above the 
Madonna) and the iconography is direct: it encompasses 
the major themes of the crowned Madonna holding the 
Child and the Annunciation and Crucifixion. These last 
two are depicted as if represented in a fresco cycle, with the 
Annunciation divided on the arch framing the Crucifixion; 
whether this might be a reference to a specific location is 
uncertain. The large sun and moon that flank the 
Madonna are popular Marian symbols. The twenty-two 
male and female saints who crowd the sides and the 
predella below — including John the Baptist, Christopher 
(patron saint of travelers), Francis, and Jerome — provide 
a series of intercessors useful for the worshipper in differ- 
ent situations. 

This rare surviving example of an inexpensive work 
intended for popular devotion is a reminder of the many 
gaps in our knowledge about the Renaissance. We know 
much more about the role of visual culture in the lives of 
members of the elite such as the Brancacci and Strozzi and 
of those who lived in monastic communities such as the 
Carmelites than about the role images played in the lives of 
the vast majority of the population. 


220 * THE QUATTROCENTO 



8.22. ITALIAN. Madonna del Fuoco. Before 1429. Woodcut colored by band, 19^Mx 15*%" (49 x 40 cm). Cathedral, Forli. The Madonna del 
irMCK'O is the patron saint of the city of Forli, 


TRANSITIONS IN P LORE N TINE PAINTING * 


2 2 1 



9.1. FRA ANGELICO. Annunciation and Scenes from the Life of the Virgin, c. 1432-34. Panel, 5'3" x5'll" (1.6x 1.8 m). 
Museo Diocesano, Cortona. Commissioned as the high altar for the church of San Domenico in Cortona. The frame is original. 


222 * THE LATE MIDDLE AGES 


9 

THE HERITAGE OF MASACCIO: FRA 

ANGELICO AND FRA FILIPPO LIPPI 


M asaccio undisputedly created a new 
style of painting, but in 1428 his influ- 
ence was neither as immediate nor as 
far-reaching as that of his sculptural 
contemporaries. The Florentine situa- 
tion was unlike today’s, where artists must compete to stay 
up to date in a market that has no interest in yesterday’s 
ideas. It would be more fitting to compare Florence with 
Paris in the 1880s, when the paintings by the Impression- 
ist avant-garde were bought only by a few, and conserva- 
tive historical, classicistic, and genre painters still ran the 
salons and held the loyalty of the public. The Gothic style, 
for example, continued in Florentine painting through the 
1430s and into the 1440s and 1450s. Altarpieces with gold 
backgrounds, pointed arches, tracery, and pinnacles were 
commissioned and executed in quantity, as if Masaccio 
had never lived. He had no close followers, but his ideas 
bore fruit in the paintings of two artists who seem younger 
only because they survived him by decades — Fra Angelico 
and Fra Filippo Lippi — and in the work of others born 
before Masaccio or a decade or so later. In the output of 
these two painters, and in the mature creations of Ghiberti 
and Donatello, we can watch the early Quattrocento sty- 
listic heritage being transformed into something approach- 
ing a common style. 

The artists of the 1430s-1450s lived in and worked in a 
society that was changing from the defensively republican 
Florence of the first third of the Quattrocento. Although 
threats from outside continued until 1454, when the Peace 
of Lodi put an end to external warfare for forty years, the 
political and territorial independence of Florence was no 
longer threatened. But its republican integrity was more 
fragile, and by mid-century the oligarchic state, in whose 
government the artisan class was permitted at least token 
participation, survived in name only. Political and eco- 


nomic rivalry had led to the expulsion of Cosimo de’ 
Medici from Florence in 1433. He left as a private citizen, 
but he returned in 1434 and became to all intents and pur- 
poses lord of Florence. Cosimo and his descendants seldom 
held office, but they maintained power by manipulating 
the lotteries that governed the “election” of officials. Until 
the second expulsion of the family in 1494, the Florentine 
Republic was in effect a Medici principality, and Cosimo, 
Piero, and Lorenzo treated foreign sovereigns as equals. 

Paradoxically, this period encompassed the decline of 
the Florentine banking houses, including that of the 
Medici, but it also saw the establishment of a new social 
and intellectual aristocracy among the Medici and their 
supporters. These humanistically oriented patrons com- 
missioned buildings, statues, portraits, and altarpieces in 
the new classicizing style, and the elegance of Augustan 
Rome replaced the rougher republican virtues seen in the 
works of Masaccio, Nanni di Banco, and the early 
Donatello. Although sumptuary laws still forbade luxury 
and display in personal adornment, the palace and villas of 
the Medici established a new level of luxury and conspicu- 
ous consumption that had a powerful effect on the arts. 

The religious life of Florence during this period was 
dominated by Antonio Pierozzi (1389-1459), who joined 
the Dominican Order in 1405 and served as Archbishop of 
Florence from 1446 until his death. He was canonized in 
the sixteenth century as St. Antoninus of Florence. A man 
of blameless personal life, he allowed the revenues of his 
archdiocese to accumulate while he lived in a simplicity 
unexpected in the mid-Quattrocento. Except on ceremo- 
nial occasions, he wore a threadbare Dominican habit. A 
zealous reformer and compelling preacher and writer, St. 
Antoninus also served as an ambassador for the Florentine 
Republic. His Summa theologica and Summa confession- 
alls were not published until after his death, but his ideas 


THE HERITAGE OF MASACCIO: FRA ANGELICO AND FRA FILIPPO LIPPI * 223 


were well known through his preaching, and his theories 
of symbolism and morality will frequently be cited in the 
pages that follow. For the sake of convenience he will here 
be referred to as St. Antoninus, although he was not ele- 
vated to sainthood until the sixteenth century. 

At this juncture, it is convenient to examine the works of 
the two monks Fra Angelico (late 1390s-1455) and Fra 
Filippo Lippi (c. 1406-1469). Their names were men- 
tioned in a letter written from Perugia in 1438 by the 
painter Domenico Veneziano to Piero the Gouty, son and 
eventual successor of Cosimo de’ Medici. Trying to obtain 
a commission in Florence, Domenico listed Fra Angelico 
and Fra Filippo as the most important painters of the day 
and reported that both were overwhelmed with commis- 
sions. In their roughly parallel development we can see the 
emergence of the new Renaissance style. 

Giovanni da Fiesole, born Guido di Pietro, became a 
monk and is known to us as Fra Angelico (“the Angelic 
Friar”). He has long been called Beato (“Blessed”) 
Angelico by the Italians, though he was not actually beati- 
fied until 1983. Fra Filippo Lippi, on the other hand, was 
a monk who fathered two children by a nun. Although Fra 
Filippo had a personal and visible connection with Masac- 
cio, we know little for certain about his early style. We 
discuss Fra Angelico first because he was the leading 
painter of Florence in the 1430s, and it was he who inter- 
preted Masaccio’s work in a form that exercised a pro- 
found and lasting influence on Renaissance art. 

Fra Angelico 

In 1417 the artist we know as Fra Angelico was docu- 
mented as the painter Guido di Pietro. In 1423 he is first 
mentioned as Fra Giovanni da Fiesole. He was probably 
born in the late 1390s and was in his fifties when he died 
in 1455. For more than a generation, he worked as an 
artist in the service of the Dominican Order, first at San 
Domenico in Fiesole and then at San Marco in Florence 
under the priorate of St. Antoninus, whom he eventually 
succeeded as prior. Even before his death, he was extolled 
as “the angelic painter,” a description that led to the name 
by which he is popularly known today. 

The earliest fully Renaissance painting by Fra Angelico 
is his Descent from the Cross (fig. 9.2). This work had 
originally been commissioned by Palla Strozzi from 
Lorenzo Monaco, and was intended for his burial chapel 
in the Sacristy of Santa Trinita, where its subject would 
complement Gentile’s Adoration of the Magi (see fig. 8.2) 
in the same chapel. Lorenzo completed only the pinnacles 
before his death in 1425, and the unfinished work was 
later given over to Fra Angelico. The painting of the 
central panel may have been started in the late 1420s or 


early 1430s and was almost certainly finished by Novem- 
ber 1434, when Cosimo de’ Medici returned to Florence 
and members of the opposition party, including Palla 
Strozzi, were exiled. 

At first sight, the artist seems to have been hampered by 
the pre-existing frame, but then we realize that Fra 
Angelico has exploited the Gothic arches, utilizing the 
central panel for the cross and ladders and the side arches 
to frame the cityscape of Jerusalem on the left and a rocky 
landscape on the right. This monastic painter presents us 
with a world in which every shape is clear, every color 
bright and sparkling. Christ is gently lowered from the 
cross by John, Mary Magdalen, and others and mourned 
by groups gathered to either side. On the right stands a 
group of men in contemporary Florentine dress; one, 
wearing a red cappuccio , holds the nails and the crown of 
thorns, as if to encourage meditation. Both he and the 
young man kneeling in adoration are characterized as beati 
by gold rays emanating from their heads. 

The figures, grouped on a flowering lawn, are united by 
their devotion to the crucified Christ, whose body is 
depicted with Fra Angelico’s characteristic emotional 
restraint and grace, emphasizing beauty rather than suffer- 
ing. One barely notices the bruises on Christ’s torso or the 
blood on his forehead. Instead, attention is concentrated 
on the quiet face and on the light that emphasizes the silky 
surfaces of hair and beard. 

Fra Angelico stylizes distant Jerusalem as an array of 
multicolored geometric shapes. The storm cloud that dark- 
ened the sky during the Crucifixion still casts a shadow 
over some of the city. On the right side, trees provide a 
loose screen through which we look into a hilly Tuscan 
landscape punctuated by towns, villages, farmhouses, 
castles, and villas under a sky filled with soft clouds. 

The Descent from the Cross was a milestone. At this 
time, no painter in Europe except the Flemish artist Jan 
van Eyck could surpass Angelico’s control of the resources 
of the new naturalism, and none could match the monu- 
mental harmony of figures and landscape he created here. 

Fra Angelico’s splendid Annunciation altarpiece (fig. 
9.1) was painted for the church of San Domenico in the 
Tuscan town of Cortona. The setting is a portico of 
Corinthian columns that divide the panel into thirds — two 
defined by the arches of his portico, the third occupied by 
three receding arches and a garden. The angel enters the 
portico, bowing and genuflecting before Mary, who is 
seated on a chair draped with gold brocade. Directly above 
her head, in the shadows under the star-studded ceiling, 
the dove of the Holy Spirit appears surrounded by a golden 
light. A sculpted representation of the prophet Isaiah looks 
down from the spandrel between the arches. Behind the 
angel’s head, through a doorway and past a partially 


224 


THE QUATTROCENTO 



9.2. FRA ANGELICO. Descent from the Cross. Probably completed 1434. Panel, 9' x 9'4" (2.75 x 2.85 m). Museum of S. Marco, 
Florence. Frame and pinnacles by Lorenzo Monaco, c. 1420-22. Commissioned by Palla Strozzi. 


drawn curtain, we can see into Mary’s bedchamber. The 
interaction between Gabriel and Mary is made clear in the 
texts that course between them. The upper and lower texts 
are summaries of Gabriel’s greeting: above, “Hail, thou 
that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art 
thou among women” (Luke 1:28); and, below, “The Holy 
Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest 
shall overshadow thee” (Luke 1:35). These two texts can 
be read from left to right. In response, Mary abandons her 
book to cross her hands on her chest in acceptance of her 
destiny, replying, in the center text, “Behold the handmaid 
of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 
1:38). This response is written in reverse, from Mary to the 
angel, and also upside down, apparently so that it can be 


read by higher powers. The garden at the left, a symbol of 
Mary’s virginity, is included in a number of Quattrocento 
Annunciations and even some Cinquecento examples. It 
illustrates the words of the Song of Songs: “A garden 
enclosed is my sister, my spouse” (4:12). St. Antoninus had 
connections with the Dominican community in Cortona, 
and already in this early work Fra Angelico follows his 
doctrine of the “garden of the soul,” a set of meditations 
for penitents written in Italian. Fra Angelico also identifies 
the garden with Eden, for at the upper left the weeping 
figures of Adam and Eve are being gently but firmly 
expelled. This association is natural since, according to St. 
Paul, Christ is the second Adam, Mary the second Eve. 
Angelico avoided the drama seen in Masaccio’s Expulsion 


THE HERITAGE OF MASACCIO: FRA ANGELICO AND FRA FILIPPO LIPPI * 225 



(see fig. 8.13), and also the nudity, clothing Adam and Eve 
in the coats of skins made for them by God (Genesis 3:21). 

Fra Angelico was certainly aware of Masaccio’s method 
of constructing forms and spaces, but he limits his 
chiaroscuro as firmly as he does the emotion he allows his 
figures to express. Their slender limbs are only just dis- 
cernible under their garments and their bodies seem barely 
corporeal. Their faces are drawn with simplicity and 
purity, and they have exquisitely tended blond hair and 
healthy rosy cheeks. The poised shapes, the subtle con- 
tours, and the harmonies of space and light are enhanced 
by the freshness of the colors. The angel, with wings seem- 
ingly made of beaten gold, is dressed in a tunic of clear, 
bright vermilion with bands of golden embroidery. Mary’s 
blue mantle contrasts with the sparkling folds of the cloth- 
of-honor that hangs behind her, as do the snowy columns 
with the richly veined marble of the floor and the flowery 
lawn. The world Fra Angelico creates is remote from 
reality, a realm of unmarred celestial beauty. 

In the predella scenes, however, the real world intrudes. 
In the Visitation (fig. 9.3), looking past Mary and her 
cousin, we see an old woman laboring up the hill toward 
us. Beyond her spreads a broad landscape, its distance 
enhanced by shadows of clouds. Mary “went into the hill 
country with haste,” wrote Luke in his Gospel (1:39), and 
St. Antoninus’s Summa stressed that this subject, which 
marks the first recognition of the divinity of Christ — the 
response of John the Baptist while he was still in the womb 
of Elizabeth — should have a hilly background. The back- 
ground elements are identifiable as the town of Castiglione 
Fiorentino, the tower of Montecchi (still visible to travel- 
ers between Florence and Rome), and the wide lake that 


then filled the Chiana Valley below Cortona (see fig. 16.4). 
This may well be the earliest recognizable representation of 
a specific place in the Renaissance. Beyond the sun- 
drenched town, the plain fuses with the sky in impercepti- 
ble gradations of summer sunlight and dusty haze. The 
spatial experience of landscape is realized more fully in this 
tiny panel than in any previous Italian work. 

In 1436, the neglected buildings of San Marco in Flo- 
rence were taken from the religious order previously there 
and presented to the Dominicans of Fiesole. Beginning in 
1438, the Dominicans, supported by contributions from 
Cosimo de’ Medici, commissioned Michelozzo di Bar- 
tolommeo to build a new church and monastery on the site 
(see fig. 6.27). Pope Eugenius IV was present at the conse- 
cration of the church on January 6, 1443, under the new 
prior, the future St. Antoninus. Fra Angelico painted the 
high altarpiece, which was probably installed by 1440 (fig. 
9.4). In this work the artist showed himself to be abreast 
of the latest artistic developments. 

The altarpiece has been dismembered and the original 
frame lost; the reconstruction shown here represents an 
effort to re-create some of the effect of the original. What 
cannot be remedied is the fact that the principal panel has 
been drastically overcleaned. Nevertheless, it is still an 
impressive composition. Gold curtains, their loops contin- 
ued across the top of the picture by festoons of pink and 
white roses, seem to have just been parted to invite us to 
view the court of heaven. At the center, where the perspec- 
tive lines converge, the Virgin is enthroned in a Renais- 
sance niche whose Corinthian order is so closely related to 
Brunelleschi’s new style (and to Michelozzo’s adaptation of 
that style at San Marco) that one of the architects may 



9.3. FRA ANGELICO. Visitation y from 
the predella of the Annunciation altarpiece 
(fig. 9.1). c. 1434. Panel, approx. 9 x 15" 
(23 x 38 cm). Museo Diocesano, Cortona. 


2 2 6 


THE QUATTROCENTO 



9.4. FRA ANGELICO. Madonna and Saints (San Marco altarpiece). c. 1438-43. Conjectural reconstruction of the front and sides. 

Digitized reconstruction by Lew Minter, after Boskov its -Brown. Central panel, 86 5 /8 x 89 3 /s" (2.2 x 2.27 m). Museum of S. Marco, Florence. 
Commissioned by Cosimo de’ Medici for the high altar of S. Marco, Florence. 

Because the frame of this altarpiece is lost, this illustration uses computerized photomontage in an attempt to re-create the effect of the original 
altarpiece in a Quattrocento frame. With this frame in place, the illusionism of the gathered curtains to the sides and garland swags across the top 
takes on a new effectiveness. 


have shown Fra Angelico how such things should be 
designed. The Christ Child, seated as the Divine Ruler, 
holds a prominent orb painted with a world map with the 
Holy Land at its center, marked by a gold star. Gold bro- 
cades decorate the throne and create a wall over which one 
looks into the next level of the illusion, an “enclosed 
garden” of fruit trees, cedars and cypresses, palms and 
roses. These choices are not merely decorative, for Christ 
is the fruit of the Tree of Life, and Mary — according to 
symbolism derived from the apocryphal Book of 
Wisdom — is a cedar of Lebanon, a cypress on Zion, a palm 
in Cades, and a rose tree in Jericho. The texts inscribed on 
the Virgin’s mantle are: “I am the mother of beautiful love 
... and of holy hope” and “Like a vine I caused loveliness 
to bud, and my blossoms became glorious and abundant 
fruit.” The garden in the background is both the represen- 
tation and the symbol of these words. Angels and saints 


gather in a semicircle on the steps of the throne and on an 
Anatolian animal carpet that provides the converging 
orthogonals of the perspective construction. The carpet 
seems to be precisely rendered, but in fact its border fea- 
tures the red palle, or balls, of the coat of arms of the 
monastery’s patron, Cosimo de’ Medici; either this is an 
interpolation on Angelico’s part, to honor his patron, or 
the Medici had such a rug woven to their specifications. 

In the foreground, the composition in space is continued 
by the kneeling Medici patron saints, Cosmas and Damian, 
and completed by what seems to be a small panel of the 
Crucifixion, a picture within a picture. This illusionistic 
device is based on the custom of placing an image of the 
Crucifixion or the dead Christ on the altar while saying 
Mass. When no such image appeared in the altarpiece, a 
small panel like the one painted here would have to be 
brought from the sacristy. In this case Fra Angelico’s 


THE HERITAGE OF MASACCIO: FRA ANGELICO AND FRA FILIPPO LIPPI * ZZJ 



illusion is clever, for it provides the required image 
while adding another grace note to his highly developed 
spatial composition. 

The representation of a unified grouping of figures 
within an integrated, continuous, illusionistic space as seen 
here was new to Renaissance painting. Although we cannot 
determine who the innovator was, there is no question that 
Fra Angelico and his Medici patrons were in the forefront 
of these developments. With its perspective construction, 
lofty central arched throne, and pyramidal grouping of 
figures within a circle in depth, the altarpiece establishes a 
precedent that may have been an impetus for the many 
other centralized, multifigural compositions created in 
subsequent decades of the Quattrocento. The work’s influ- 
ence may have been augmented by its Medici patronage, 
which certainly added prestige to this innovative work. 

The pictorial space, measured by systematic perspective 
from the foreground plane to the horizon beyond the trees, 
provides a location and the correct scale for each figure. 
The space is projected by dividing the lower edge using the 
squares in the carpet, then drawing orthogonals from these 
segments to the vanishing point. One of the kneeling saints 
turns and looks outward as he points with his right hand, 
directing our attention to the center of the picture. The use 
of these two devices — the perspective scheme and the agent 
who invites us to contemplate the theme — corresponds, as 
we shall see, to the doctrines of Leonbattista Alberti, who 
had arrived in Florence a few years earlier and circulated 
Della pittura , the Italian version of his treatise De pictura 
(On Painting). 


In the predella panels, featuring the legend of Sts. 
Cosmas and Damian, Fra Angelico displayed his versatility 
in handling both figures and the luminous and atmospheric 
effects of the natural world. Dominican high altarpieces 
rarely have predellas, and the inclusion here of this cycle, 
instantly recognizable as Medicean, reveals the influence of 
the patron in determining iconography, even in public reli- 
gious works. At first sight, the interiors seem to be stan- 
dard Trecento boxes. The Miracle of the Deacon Justinian 
(fig. 9.5) shows the two saints floating on clouds as they 
exchange the deacon’s gangrenous leg for a healthy one 
amputated from a Moor. The space is illuminated naturally 
by light coming in from the front left, so that a shadow is 
cast across the right wall. A second source of light is the 
tiny window on the left wall, through which light filters 
onto the splayed embrasure. A third source is the light 
reflected upward from the floor, and there is a fourth 
source in the corridor visible through the open door. In the 
interplay of the effects of light from four different sources 
on walls, furniture, curtains, figures, and still life (note the 
slippers, beaker, and carafe), and in the delicacy with 
which light suffuses the shadows, Fra Angelico reveals his 
subtle observation of natural effects. 

Between the end of 1438 and late 1445, when he left for 
Rome, Fra Angelico and his assistants — probably also 
monks — provided paintings for the monastery of San 
Marco’s chapter house, corridors, and overdoors, and for 
forty-four monks’ cells (fig. 9.6). The painters were cer- 
tainly under the direction of the prior, St. Antoninus, and 
the style of their paintings for the monastic community 



9.5. FRA ANGELICO. The 
Miracle of the Deacon Justinian , 
from the predella of the S. Marco 
altarpiece (fig. 9.4). c. 1438-43. 
Panel, 14V2 x 18 3 /4" (37 x 48 cm). 
Museum of S. Marco, Florence. 


2 2 8 


THE QUATTROCENTO 


9.6. MICHELOZZO DI 

BARTOLOMMEO. Plan of the second 

floor of the Monastery of S. Marco, 

Florence. 1442-44. 

1. The Library, by Michelozzo (see fig. 
6.27). 

2. Location of fresco of the Annunciation 
in the hallway, at the top of the entrance 
stairs (see fig. 9.7). 

3. Location of monk’s cell with fresco of 
the Annunciation (see fig. 9.8). 

4. Location of the double cell reserved for 
Cosimo de’ Medici, with fresco of the 
Procession and Adoration of the Magi 
by the workshop of Fra Angelico. 

5. Location of the double cell used by 
Savonarola (see pp. 342-344) when he 
was the prior of San Marco. 


differs sharply from that of Angelico’s altarpieces intended 
for public view. There is even a distinction between the 
frescoes destined for the monastic community as a whole 
and those in the cells — a reminder of how an artist and his 
hottega could modify style and iconographic interpreta- 
tions according to location and audience. 

At the head of the staircase leading into the dormitory, 
which every monk must have used several times a day, Fra 
Angelico painted an Annunciation (fig. 9.7) with the 
inscription, “As you venerate this figure of the intact Virgin 
while passing before it, beware lest you omit to say a Hail 
Mary.” Uncertain in date, the inscription nevertheless pro- 
vides a hint of the role of images in the rituals of monastic 
life. Another clue to monastic behavior can be seen in a 
fresco of the Dominican saint Peter Martyr over the door 
leading from the cloister to the adjoining church: the saint 
has his finger raised in the traditional gesture of silence, 
reminding the monks that, though they could speak in the 
cloister, they had to fall silent upon entering the church. 

Fra Angelico’s interest in natural light is evident in this 
Annunciation , for when the monks ascended the staircase 
to the upper floor, only after a turn in the staircase would 
they see the painting, at a point where light floods in from 
a large window to the left that conforms to the painted 
light within the picture. As is appropriate for both the 



fresco medium and the monastic setting, the bright colors 
and gold of the Annunciation altarpiece (see fig. 9.1) are 
here replaced by pale tints. The architecture is now seen 
directly from the front, so that the lateral columns recede 
toward the center of the composition, drawing the viewer’s 
eye from left to right. The greater weight of the columns 
and the care with which the capitals are rendered probably 
reveal the painter’s interest in Michelozzo’s architecture, 
then being constructed all about him. It is doubtful, 
however, that an architect would have approved of using 
Corinthian and Ionic capitals in the same portico. 

The mood here is less immediate and more contempla- 
tive than in the ecstatic Cortona Annunciation. Mary has 
no book and she sits on a rough-hewn, three-legged 
wooden stool. The fence around her “garden of the soul,” 
as it was called by St. Antoninus, is higher and stronger. 
Her chamber, stripped of furniture, opens onto the world 
through a barred window, and one is reminded of St. 
Antoninus’s admonition to sweep clean the room of the 


THE HERITAGE OF MASACCIO: FRA ANGELICO AND FRA FILIPPO LIPPI * 229 



9.7. FRA ANGELICO. Annunciation. 1438-45. Fresco, 7'1" x 10'6" 
(2.2 x 3.2 m). Hallway, Monastery of S. Marco, Florence. Probably 
commissioned by Cosimo de’ Medici. 


mind and to distrust the eye, the window of the soul: 
“Deadly sin comes in at the windows, if they are not closed 
as they ought to be,” was his warning in discussing the 
theme of the Annunciation. Angelico has made the 
window the eye of his fresco, the vanishing point of his 
perspective lines. 

Each of the arched frescoes in the cells is about 6 feet 
high and each seems to float on the wall under a curving 
vault. Everything in these images is pure, clean, and dis- 
embodied. The world seems to retreat, leaving the medita- 
tive subject suspended before the cell’s occupant. The cell 
version of the Annunciation (fig. 9.8) shows a standing 
angel and a kneeling Virgin, slight and frail, who holds her 
open book to her breast. The angel has entered with the 
light, which falls on the Virgin. They are united by the 
simple rhythms of the plain architecture, which is arched 
like the cell it adorns. There is no garden, and outside the 
arcade St. Peter Martyr meditates on the event. He is 
included ahistorically as an example for the cell’s resident 


monk who, under the hypnotic influence of the luminous 
colors, clear shapes, harmonious spaces, and simple com- 
position, is expected to experience mystically the miracle 
of the Incarnation. 

Through their austere colors and simplified shapes, the 
cell frescoes suggest that no worldly concerns should 
trouble the spirit. In each painting, however, Fra Angelico 
and his assistants also probed the sensibilities of the indi- 
vidual observer, as Donatello had done in his sculpture (see 
figs. 7.12, 7.17). In these frescoes the observer is the center, 
as is also the effect in works that demonstrate the Renais- 
sance perspective system. In this sense these paintings are 
fully Renaissance works. 


9.8. FRA ANGELICO. Annunciation. 1438-45. Fresco, 6'1 V 2 " x 
5'2" (1.87 x 1.58 m). Monk’s cell, Monastery of S. Marco, Florence. 
Probably commissioned by Cosimo de’ Medici. 


23O 


THE QUATTROCENTO 








Fra Filippo Lippi 

Filippo Lippi was born about 1406 into the large family of 
an impoverished butcher in the poor neighborhood near 
the monastery of the Carmine in Florence. Together with a 
brother, he entered the monastery at an early age and took 
his vows in 1421. Giorgio Vasari reported that Filippo 
decided to become a painter while watching Masaccio at 
work in the Brancacci Chapel. The mistake of Filippo 
becoming a monk was compounded by his appointment to 
the chaplaincy of a convent in Prato where, according to 
Vasari, a young nun named Lucrezia Buti drew his atten- 
tion while he was saying Mass. We know from an anony- 
mous denunciation, made to the Office of the Monasteries 
and of the Night, that from 1456 to 1458 Lucrezia, her 
sister Spinetta, and five other nuns were living in Filippo’s 
house. During this period a son, who became the painter 
Filippino Lippi (see figs. 13.31, 13.33-13.34), was born to 
Lucrezia; later a daughter was born. There was more 
trouble: patrons claimed that Filippo did not fulfill his 
contracts, for example, and an assistant claimed he was 
not paid. At one point, Filippo found himself in difficulty 
with the authorities and was tried and tortured on the 
rack. It is said that Cosimo de’ Medici persuaded Pope Pius 
II to release Filippo and Lucrezia from their vows. They 
allegedly married and their children were legitimized. 

Filippo’s earliest dated painting, a Madonna and Child 
(fig. 9.9), shows the influence of Masaccio in the heavy 
features of the Madonna, the simplicity of the domestic 
interior, and the heavy shadows. Only the marble throne 
and pearl diadem seem out of place. The absence of a halo 
for either of the sacred figures represents a move toward 
the greater naturalism that will become common later in 
the Quattrocento. A closer look, however, reveals that 
Filippo is not interested in the consistency characteristic of 
Masaccio’s style. The heavy drapery is lit erratically, and 
the interior space seems throttled around the center, 
although perhaps this effect is the result of the panel 
having been reduced in size sometime in the past. Filippo’s 
attempt to suggest natural gestures and attitudes seems 
somewhat forced. The most striking feature of the style, 
however, is the reappearance of contour. Apparently, 
Masaccio’s chiaroscuro did not seem sufficient to Filippo, 
for around every form he has added hard, drawn edges. 
The result, less pictorial than sculptural, may indicate 
Filippo’s careful study of figures by Donatello, Nanni, 
and others. 

In his Annunciation (fig. 9.10), Filippo established a 
deep perspective into a monastery garden, at once the 
garden of the Temple of Solomon (with which Mary was 
connected) and the symbolic closed garden of the Song of 
Songs. Mary’s agitated pose is probably derived from 



9.9. FRA FILIPPO LIPPI. Madonna and Child (Tarquinia 
Madonna). 1437. Panel, 45 x 25 V2 1 ' (114 x 65 cm) (cut down at the 
sides and bottom). National Gallery, Rome, on display at Palazzo 
Barberini. Perhaps commissioned by Giovanni Vitelleschi, 
Archbishop of Florence, for his palace in Cometo Tarquinia. 


Donatello’s slightly earlier Annunciation (see fig. 10.21), 
but the mood of the picture has little to do with that mon- 
ument to classicism. 

The two curly-haired, puffy-faced angels to the left may 
function as witnesses to this moment of Christ’s Incar- 
nation. One looks downward; the other gazes out at the 
observer and points to the Annunciation, leading our eye 
into the painting — a device recommended by Alberti and 
already mentioned in our discussion of the works of Fra 
Angelico. The tones of the drapery of the foreground 
figures contrast surprisingly with the brilliant orange 


2 3 2 


THE QUATTROCENTO 



building at the end of the garden. Note the glass vase in the 
foreground, from which Gabriel has apparently just 
plucked the lily he holds. Filippo has even painted a niche 
to suggest that the vase rests on the frame — or perhaps on 
the altar itself — thereby uniting the real space of the chapel 
with the illusory space of the picture. With its shining 
water and soft shadow, the vase contrasts with the expanse 
of the softly painted garden, with its flowers, trees, arbor, 
and blue sky beyond. It is the kind of effect one would 
expect from a Netherlandish rather than an Italian artist, 
and it may indicate Filippo’s awareness of artistic develop- 
ments north of the Alps. 

There must have been a good reason for the unorthodox 
composition of this Annunciation , with the main scene 
moved into one half so that the rest could be given over to 


two additional angels not mentioned in biblical accounts 
of this event. These angels are somewhat distracting, for 
they look like neighborhood youngsters dressed up with 
wings, as we know happened at festival occasions. Each 
year at the Carmine, for example, Filippo could have wit- 
nessed a re-enactment of the Ascension of Christ in which 
the actor who played Christ sailed up through a hole cut in 
the ceiling in front of the Brancacci Chapel. The Church of 
San Felice put on a similar annual show, choreographed by 
Brunelleschi, that dramatized the Annunciation. The angel 
Gabriel, lowered in a copper mandorla into the midst of 
the church, moved across a stage in front of the altar and 
delivered the salutation to Mary, who was waiting in her 
little habitation. After listening to her reply, he ascended 
into a blue dome lined with lighted lamps to represent stars 



9.10. FRA FILIPPO LIPPI. Annunciation, c. 1440. Panel, 5'9" x 6' (1.75 x 1.83 m). m S. Lorenzo, Florence. Probably 
commissioned by a member of the Martelli family for their family chapel in San Lorenzo. 

Physical evidence and the unusual composition, with the scene of the Annunciation squeezed into one-half of the available 
space, suggest that the work may have been created as two hinged panels, to function as a kind of diptych. 


THE HERITAGE OF MASACCIO: FRA ANGELICO AND FRA FILIPPO LIPPI * 2 33 



9.11. FRA FILIPPO LIPPI. Madonna and Child with the Birth of the Virgin and the Meeting of Joachim and 
Anna . 1452. Panel, diameter 53" (1.35 m). Pitti Gallery, Florence. Commissioned by Lionardo Bartolini, an 
important banker and statesman. The frame is original. 


and with child-angels standing on clouds of carded wool 
and held in by iron bars so that they could not fall “even 
if they wanted to,” according to Vasari. The flavor of these 
popular festivals seems to animate Filippo’s paintings. 

Filippo’s delightful tondo (circular picture) of the 
Madonna and Child with the Birth of the Virgin and the 
Meeting of Joachim and Anna was painted in 1452 for a 
prosperous merchant (fig. 9.11). The tondo is derived in 
part from the Florentine tradition of painted round trays 
presented to women as marriage gifts or when they gave 
birth to a male child (for an earlier example, see fig. 12.3). 

On the staircase at the upper right St. Anne, mother of 
the Virgin, receives the returning Joachim, perhaps a refer- 
ence to the kiss that, some theologians argued, marked the 
moment the Virgin was conceived (see fig. 3.7). Then, on 
the left, the birth of the Virgin is depicted as if it were 
taking place in the Renaissance house of a well-to-do 
Florentine family, attended by maidservants carrying gifts. 
The next generation appears in the central Virgin and 
Child, who are placed at the focal point of the perspective, 


which means that they are off-center in the composition 
within the tondo. The Virgin, who looks shyly out at the 
observer, was drawn from the same model as other 
Madonnas by Lippi. The Christ Child holds a pomegran- 
ate and is about to pop a seed into his mouth; like Masac- 
cio’s grapes (see figs. 8.5, 8.17), this naturalistic motif has 
a religious meaning, for the pomegranate’s many seeds 
made it a symbol of the Resurrection. 

Filippo’s interest in creating a complex spatial setting is 
evident in the planes of the walls, the inlaid marble squares 
of the floor, the coffered ceilings, and the steps of varying 
breadth and pitch. The new elegance of mid-Quattrocento 
taste is seen in the delicacy of the figures and the refine- 
ment of costume, especially the Madonna’s headdress, 
with its artfully pleated design. Her blonde hair is combed 
tightly back. During the Renaissance, a high forehead was 
considered to be especially beautiful; it could be achieved, 
if necessary, by plucking or shaving. Filippo’s enthusiasm 
for beautiful young women, healthy babies, tasteful gar- 
ments, and elegant furnishings is well demonstrated in this 


2 3 4 


THE QUATTROCENTO 



image. Masaccio’s chiaroscuro has vanished and the 
figures are illuminated by a soft, allover glow without 
harsh shadows. As a result, the sense of mass evident in 
Filippo’s earlier works is somewhat reduced. 

Fra Filippo’s frescoes in the chancel of Prato Cathedral 
(fig. 9.12), begun in 1452, were executed over a period of 
time. The date of 1460 is found on one fresco, but the cycle 


was still incomplete in 1464, when officials complained to 
Carlo de’ Medici that Filippo had not finished the job, and 
even in 1466, when the painter left for Spoleto. Some of 
the work was done from Filippo’s designs by his pupil, Fra 
Diamante, but everywhere the cycle overflows with details 
that show the human sweetness and warmth characteristic 
of Filippo’s art. 



9.12. FRA FILIPPO LIPPI. Fresco cycle with scenes from the legends of Sts. Stephen and John the Baptist. Cathedral of Prato. 1452/3-66. 

The vault frescoes represent the four Evangelists. The stained-glass window, with standing saints and the Assumption of the Virgin , was executed 
by Ser Lorenzo da Pelago, probably on designs by Lippi. Commissioned by the commune of Prato. 


THE HERITAGE OF MASACCIO: FRA ANGELICO AND FRA FILIPPO LIPPI * 2 35 







The Feast of Herod (fig. 9.13) is a work of great origi- 
nality. A garden courtyard, floored with inlaid marble in a 
strong perspective pattern, is the setting for the impressive 
celebration. The perspective lines shoot inward, past the 
central figure of Herod, who is seated directly below the 
coat of arms of the patron, to windows opening onto a 
landscape. On this stage the action moves in three 
episodes. At the left, cut off from the festivities by a gigan- 
tic, armed guard, Salome receives on a platter the head of 
St. John the Baptist, from which she looks away. The 
decapitation itself is painted on the adjoining wall, and the 
executioner has to reach around the corner to place the 
head on the platter; his elbow, bent at 90 degrees, con- 
forms to the angle at which the walls meet (fig. 9.14). In 
the center Salome does her dance, poised on her left foot, 
while her right foot, hand, and assorted ribbons fly in the 
air. This figure is the ancestor, so to speak, of the figures in 
motion painted by Fra Filippo’s pupil Sandro Botticelli (see 
fig. 13.23). At the right Salome kneels, still not looking at 
the head she presents to Herodias, while at the extreme 
right two servants clutch each other as one surreptitiously 
captures a glimpse of the grisly trophy. 

Fra Filippo was chosen by the Medici to paint a series of 
penitential pictures in the late 1450s. In 1448 the plague 
struck again, and it returned annually for three summers. 


Thousands of Florentines succumbed, and the pilgrims 
passing through Tuscany on their way to the papal jubilee 
of 1450 in Rome carried the plague with them and died 
miserably in the streets there. St. Antoninus, at this time 
archbishop of Florence, may well have been responsible for 
the content of two similar works painted by Fra Filippo 
for Lucrezia Tornabuoni, wife of Piero de’ Medici: one was 
for her penitential cell at the monastery of Camaldoli in 
the Apennines and the other for the altar of the chapel 
in the Medici Palace (fig. 9.15). St. Antoninus originally 
composed his moral treatise “on the art of living well” for 
Lucrezia’s sister; a copy written in his own hand 
for Lucrezia survives. 

In Filippo’s painting for the Medici Palace, the Virgin 
kneels and adores the naked Christ Child, following, in 
part, the description by St. Bridget of Sweden of her vision 
of the Nativity (see p. 148), suggesting that Filippo’s image 
refers to the moment of the Nativity even when such 
iconographic details as the cave, shed, Joseph, angels, ox, 
or ass are missing. God the Father and the dove of the 
Holy Spirit join the Christ Child in forming the Trinity. 
Nearby stands St. John the Baptist as a boy of five or six, 
although, according to tradition, he was only six months 
older than his cousin Jesus. The setting is the middle of a 
forest in which many felled trees can be seen. In the lower 



236 


THE QUATTROCENTO 



left-hand corner an ax wedged into a tree trunk bears the 
words “Frater Philippus P” (for pinxit , meaning painted) 
on its handle. This is a penitential image derived from the 
Baptist’s own words: “And now also the axe is laid unto 
the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth 
not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire” 
(Matthew 3:10). 

Since the painting seems to date to about the time of the 
Lucrezia Buti scandal, Filippo’s signature on the ax handle 
may record his penance. But logging was also an essential 
daily activity of the monks at Camaldoli, who lived a rig- 
orous existence in clearings they made in the forest. Each 
monk resided in a separate hut, celebrating solitary Mass 
and living on what he could raise in his garden plot. Taking 
the Camaldolites as his theme, St. Antoninus recommended 
to penitents a life of religious meditation in what he called 
“the little garden of the soul,” very like the garden plot in 



9.14. FRA FILIPPO LIPPI. The Head of St John the Baptist 
Handed to Salome . 1452/3-66. Fresco. Cathedral, Prato, detail 
of the Feast of Herod (see fig. 9.13). 


which we see Mary kneeling to adore Christ. First one 
should cut down the trees, he wrote, then uproot the 
stumps and brambles, then fence in the garden and appoint 
a guardian for the gate, and only then will the flowers of a 
good life spring. He also admired St. John the Baptist — the 
last of the prophets and the first of the martyrs — who went 
into the wilderness before the age of seven. St. Antoninus 
claimed that the true penitent will identify with the Virgin, 
and that through creating the “garden of the soul,” the 
Christ Child can be born again in one’s heart. 

Filippo’s painting is replete with St. Antoninus’s dictums. 
Around Christ, flowers spring up to form a garden pro- 
tected by saints, while felled and uprooted trees fill the 
background. Fire comes down from heaven — the fire of the 
Holy Spirit, with which St. John said Christ would baptize 
(Matthew 3:11). In the deep blue-green gloom of the 
forest, Mary and the praying saint — Romuald, founder of 
the Camaldolite Order — adore Christ. 

At this same time, other painters were exploring Masac- 
cio’s style and investigating new aspects of the natural 
world, as we shall see in Chapter 11. 


9.15. FRA FILIPPO LIPPI. The Adoration of the Infant Jesus. Late 
1450s. Panel, 50 x 45 5 /s" (1.27 x 1.16 m). Gemaldegalerie, Berlin. 
Commissioned by a member of the Medici family (Cosimo or Piero 
de’ Medici or perhaps Lucrezia Tornabuoni) for the chapel in the 
Medici Palace (see fig. 6.22), where an early copy is now on the altar. 



THE HERITAGE OF MASACCIO: FRA ANGELICO AND FRA FILIPPO LIPPI • 2*37 




■ ■ 





10 

FLORENTINE ARCHITECTURE AND 


S C U L 


T he new stylistic concerns of the mid- 
Quattrocento are rooted in the life, thought, 
and artistic activity of the humanist Leonbat- 
tista Alberti (1404-1472), whose importance 
and influence for Renaissance art, already 
mentioned in preceding chapters, can hardly be exagger- 
ated. Alberti’s theories on architecture, sculpture, and 
painting made a lasting impact on each of these disciplines. 

Alberti 

Latin was still almost exclusively the language of intellec- 
tual discourse, and Alberti authored works in Latin that 
ranged from poems and comedies to treatises on law, the 
horse, the family, and the tranquillity of the soul. In 1435 
he circulated in manuscript form De pictura (On Painting ), 
following in 1436 with Della pittura , an abridged and less 
erudite version in Italian. Alberti’s De re aedificatoria libri 
X (Ten Books on Architecture) , written before 1450, were 
the Renaissance counterpart to the only ancient treatise on 
architecture to survive, De architectural by the ancient 
Roman architect and engineer Vitruvius. Alberti probably 
wrote De statua (On the Statue) in the 1450s. His writings 
express the doctrine that “virtus” was the most important 
quality to be sought in human life. By this he meant not 
'"virtue” in the Christian sense, but a combination of ideal 
human traits: intelligence, reason, knowledge, control, 
balance, perception, harmony, and dignity. The last five 


PTURE, c. 1430-55 


traits listed could also be used to describe much of Early 
Renaissance art and architecture. 

Alberti, like the other Florentine humanists, was a 
member of an important Florentine family, but the Alberti 
family had been expelled in 1402 and Leonbattista was 
born in exile in 1404. He received a humanistic education 
at the University of Bologna, where he took his doctorate 
in canon law at the age of twenty-four and became 
acquainted with the humanist scholar Tommaso Parentu- 
celli, who later became Pope Nicholas V. He derived no 
steady income from family sources and was thus depend- 
ent on stipends from patrons, who included both secular 
and ecclesiastical princes — the Este of Ferrara, the Mala- 
testa of Rimini, the Gonzaga of Mantua, several cardinals, 
and at least two popes, as well as the Florentine merchant 
prince Giovanni Rucellai. As a young man Alberti traveled 
widely in Germany and the Low Countries, eventually 
became a writer of papal briefs, and for more than thirty 
years enjoyed the revenue (benefice) of the Church of San 
Martino a Gangalandi in the Arno Valley. He seems to 
have made up for his habitual absence from San Martino 
by a bequest to build a handsome Renaissance apse, appar- 
ently of his own design. Alberti’s role at the courts of his 
princely patrons was that of adviser, and his artistic influ- 
ence, especially in the realm of architecture and city plan- 
ning, extended far beyond the buildings he designed. 

Alberti first came to Florence in 1434, the year of Cosimo 
de’ Medici’s return from exile. But, in his own words, he 


Opposite: 10.1. LORENZO GHIBERTI. Gates of Paradise, East Doors for Baptistery, Florence (now removed). 1425— 52. Gilded bronze, 
height approx. 15' (4.6 m). Museo delPOpera del Duomo, Florence. Commissioned by the Opera of the Baptistery and the Arte di Calimala for 
the Florentine Baptistery. 

The outer frame, by Lorenzo and Vittorio Ghiberti and the Ghiberti workshop, has been dated c. 1448-52. This historic photograph shows the 
doors when they were still installed on the Baptistery; today they have been replaced with copies. 


FLORENTINE ARCHITECTURE AND SCULPTURE, c. 1 4 3 0 - 5 5 * 239 


“went to Florence seldom and remained there little.” Neither 
of his two architectural creations there were directly imi- 
tated by Florentine patrons or architects, although his 
architectural ideas had an enormous effect both in Flo- 
rence and in other Italian centers, and the Roman High 
Renaissance is inconceivable without his innovations. His 
notions about the construction and organization of picto- 




rial space and the compositional and narrative methods 
that painters should follow help explain the developments 
already observed in the works of Fra Angelico and Fra 
Filippo Lippi. Such ideas also clarify certain aspects of 
works in sculpture by Lorenzo Ghiberti and Donatello, 
and in painting by Paolo Uccello, Domenico Veneziano, 
Andrea del Castagno, and Piero della Francesca. 



Left: 10.2. LEONBATTISTA 
ALBERTI. Self-Portrait, c. 1435. 
Bronze, height 8" (20.1 cm; shown 
actual size). National Gallery of 
Art, Washington, D.C. 

The winged eye to the left is 
Alberti’s emblem. The L. BAP. to 
the right, which is framed by two 
smaller eyes, refers to his name 
and perhaps also functions as 
a signature. 



Above: 10.3. LEONBATTISTA 
ALBERTI. Malatesta Temple 
(S. Francesco), Rimini, design for 
exterior, on a bronze medal after 
MATTEO DE’ PASTI. 1450. 
Diameter IV 2 1 ' (4 cm; shown actual 
size). National Gallery of Art, 
Washington, D.C. (Kress 
Collection). Commissioned 
by Sigismondo Malatesta. 


24O 


THE QUATTROCENTO 


It was apparently during his time in Florence that Alberti 
executed a large self-portrait medal in bronze (fig. 10.2). 
He shows himself in strict profile, wearing a classical cloak, 
as indicated by the knot, and with a severe haircut based 
on classical models. Alberti was clearly in the vanguard of 
artistic developments, for this is the earliest known Renais- 
sance portrait medal and the first independent self-portrait 
by a Renaissance artist, as well as the first to show the 
artist dressed in the antique style. Alberti’s models were 
clearly ancient Roman coins, but in making the leap from 
a historic coin to a larger personal commemoration, he 
provided an early demonstration of the new way in which 
the individual would be understood in the Renaissance. 

THE MALATESTA TEMPLE. At mid-century, 
Alberti was given an opportunity to put his classical ideas 
into visible form in an ambitious structure that, although 
unfinished, is known today through a medal and an 
elegant fragment (figs. 10.3-10.4). The Adriatic city of 
Rimini was at that time under the rule of the erudite but 
unscrupulous tyrant Sigismondo Malatesta — the only 
person in history publicly consigned to hell by the pope 
while he was still alive; the ceremony was performed by 
Pope Pius II in front of St. Peter’s. 

One of Sigismondo’s offenses was the conversion of the 
church of San Francesco at Rimini into a sort of temple to 
himself and his mistress, Isotta degli Atti. The desecration 


had started unobtrusively. In the original Gothic church, 
funerary chapels were erected for Sigismondo and Isotta, 
and the architect Matteo de’ Pasti was commissioned to 
clothe the arches of the interior in Renaissance dress. At 
the jubilee of Pope Nicholas V in Rome in 1450, Sigis- 
mondo seems to have made the acquaintance of Alberti, 
who was advising the pope on redesigning the papal city. 
For Sigismondo, Alberti created a design that would 
enclose and conceal the work of de’ Pasti, which Alberti 
criticized in a letter dated 1454. 

The medal struck for the laying of the cornerstone in 
1450 shows a facade with three arches below and a central 
arch above. The medal and a number of buildings in 
Venice and Dalmatia that reflect Alberti’s design suggest 
that the sloping roofs to the sides were to have been half- 
arches. These and the central upper arches were external 
reflections of a wooden barrel vault to be built over the 
nave and wooden half-barrel vaults over the side aisles. 
These vaults were to have been decorated to look like 
stone to confer an effect of simple grandeur onto a struc- 
ture cluttered by Matteo’s revetment. Alberti demolished 
the Gothic sanctuary to make way for the crowning feature 
of the building: the never-constructed dome seen in the 
medal. Alberti’s own words support conjecture about the 
dome, which the medal shows as a huge hemisphere, as 
wide as the church and raised above a cylindrical drum. 
Although Alberti admired Brunelleschi’s dome for the 



10.4. LEONBATTISTA ALBERTI. Malatesta Temple (S. Francesco), Rimini, exterior. Designed 1450; construction begun 1450 or 1453. 
Istrian stone, with details in colored marble. Commissioned by Sigismondo Malatesta. 


FLORENTINE ARCHITECTURE AND SCULPTURE, c. 1 4 3 0- 5 5 * 24 I 



Cathedral of Florence (see fig. 6.7), he insisted that its pro- 
portions were incorrect because they did not correspond to 
the pure geometry demonstrated in the design of the Pan- 
theon (see fig. 1.2), which seems to be imitated here. 

Only the exterior of Alberti’s plan was brought any- 
where near completion, and the elegance of the lower story 
of the facade makes one regret that the upper story was 
never completed. The triple arch below was based on 
Rimini’s ancient Roman Arch of Augustus, which is only a 
few hundred yards away. The arches on the side elevations 
frame sarcophagi intended for the humanists of Sigis- 
mondo’s court. Note that the arches of the facade and 
sides are supported by piers, not, as in a Brunelleschian 
building, columns. 

Alberti defined beauty as “the harmony and concord of 
all the parts, achieved in such a manner that nothing could 
be added, taken away, or altered,” and emphasized that 
the proportions of all the members and spaces were to be 
based on mathematics, as in Milan Cathedral (see p. 154) 
and the works of Brunelleschi (see p. 165). In response to 
questions about the relationship of the various parts of the 
temple, Alberti wrote that if “the measurements and the 
proportions of the piers” were altered it would “make a 
discord in all that music” — a reference that reminds us of 
the traditional relationship between mathematics, architec- 
ture, and music mentioned earlier (see p. 169). 

Because arches were openings in a wall, Alberti empha- 
sized, they should be supported by sections of the wall, 
while columns belong not to beauty as defined above, but 
to decoration and therefore should be treated as applied 
elements, not supporting members. The resultant emphasis 
on the block of the building itself is alien to Brunelleschi’s 
more linear, planar architecture and his use of columns to 
support arcades both inside and out (see figs. 6.13, 
6.17-6.18), revealing a fundamental change in the concep- 
tion of a Renaissance structure. The effect of massive 
grandeur conveyed by the structure is enhanced by the 
arches, cornices, triumphal wreaths (enclosing slices of 
porphyry columns taken from the sixth-century church of 
Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna), and capitals. At first 
glance the capitals seem to be ancient Roman in derivation, 
but they were designed by Alberti, who combined ancient 
decorative motifs such as volutes, egg-and-dart moldings, 
acanthus leaves, and winged cherub heads. Matteo de’ 
Pasti described Alberti’s extraordinary designs for the cap- 
itals as “bellissimi” (“most beautiful”), suggesting that in 
his mind they fulfilled Alberti’s definition of beauty. 

THE PALAZZO RUCELLAI. A strikingly original 
contribution to the history of Renaissance palace design 
was the facade of the Palazzo Rucellai in Florence (fig. 
10.5), which Giorgio Vasari attributed to Alberti. The 


palace belonged to an immensely wealthy Florentine mer- 
chant, Giovanni Rucellai, who wrote in his notebook that 
men have two roles in life: to procreate and to build. The 
classical design of Palazzo Rucellai, built about 1142-50, 
may be taken as a response to the Palazzo Medici (see figs. 
6.22-6.26), started less than a decade earlier. The basic ele- 
ments are similar: a rusticated three-story building with an 
entrance portal and high, square windows on the ground 
floor; mullioned windows on the second and third; and a 
massive cornice. But in the Palazzo Rucellai these features 
have been absorbed into a new proportional system. The 
three stories are of equal height, and the rustication, con- 
sisting of smooth “pseudoblocks” of stone (the real joints 
do not always correspond to the apparent ones), is identi- 
cal in all three stories. Applied to this base is a grid of 
pilasters and entablatures, an idea apparently inspired by 
the Colosseum in Rome (see fig. 1.3) and intended to 
convey the humanist erudition of architect and patron. 

The details are articulated with elegance. Alberti main- 
tained that those who knew well the grammar of ancient 
architecture could devise personal vocabularies. According 
to ancient Roman practice, Ionic was placed above Doric 
or Tuscan, and Corinthian above Ionic; thus the ground 
story of the Palazzo Rucellai is Tuscan and the third 
Corinthian. But the second story displays graceful capitals 
of Alberti’s invention, composed of acanthus leaves 
grouped about a central palmette — a fitting intermediate 
stage between Tuscan and Corinthian. Further decoration 
includes the portal cornices and the friezes containing 
Rucellai family symbols, including the elegant motif of a 
billowing sail, itself perhaps designed by Alberti. 

The brilliant originality of this design supports Vasari’s 
statement that the facade was designed by Alberti — an 
attribution sustained by at least two other sources. But 
other early sources mention a “model” of the building 
made by the architect and sculptor Bernardo Rossellino 
(see pp. 247, 260-1), and some later scholars have con- 
tended that he, not Alberti, designed and built the facade. 
Giovanni Rucellai, writing about 1464, states that the 
palace is his chief achievement in building but, typically for 
this period, identifies neither architect nor builder. Neither 
does the sculptor and architect Filarete (see pp. 433-34), 
who was in Florence in 1461 and described the facade of 
the Palazzo Rucellai as “all made in the antique style.” 

One possible solution is that Alberti created a design of 
only five bays, starting from the left. A five-bay facade would 
correspond with the design principles stated by Alberti in 
De re aedificatoria , where he recommended that, as a 
reflection of the natural bodies of humans and animals, a 
building should be centralized and have an even number of 
supports, combined with an odd number of openings — an 
idea based on the eyes, ears, nostrils, and mouth of the head. 


* 


242 


THE QUATTROCENTO 



10.5. LEONBATTISTA ALBERTI (attributed to). Palazzo Rucellai, Florence, facade (left five bays only), c. 1452-58. Pietra serena. Probably 
extended later by BERNARDO ROSSELLINO. Commissioned by Giovanni Rucellai. 

In Giovanni Rucellai ’s memoirs of 1473, he wrote: “Through God’s grace, I have been very fortunate in the businesses of trading and banking. 

I was resourceful and competent, and I started working when I was still a lad.... From my work I gained a great reputation and a great deal of 
trust, and in my heyday I established many banking companies in Florence ... and branches outside Florence. I also at several times became 
involved with seven wood workshops as a business partner with several others. From these trades I have earned huge sums, and with the earnings 
I have supported vast expenditure, above all the taxes of the commune, for which I calculate that I have paid 60,000 florins up to the present day. 
I have also provided for the dowries of five of my married daughters, and this cost me 10,000 florins.” After mentioning his expenditure for 
Palazzo Rucellai, the fagade of Sta. Maria Novella, and other works, he concludes: “All of the above gave me and still give me the greatest 
satisfaction and pleasure, since in part they serve the honor of God as well as the honor of the city and the commemoration of myself. It is 
generally said (and it is true) that earning and spending are among the greatest pleasures given to men in this world, and it is difficult to say 
which one gives greater pleasure. Since in the last fifty years I have not done anything but earn and spend, which, as I said above, gave me great 
satisfaction and pleasure, it is my opinion that there is more happiness in spending than in earning.” 


FLORENTINE ARCHITECTURE AND SCULPTURE, c. 1 4 3 0-5 5 * 2 4 3 




It follows that a five-bay design should have six pilasters 
combined with four windows and a central doorway. In 
fact, documents indicate that just such a five-bay facade 
was built, starting about 1455 and completed in 1458. 
Later, as Giovanni Rucellai acquired more land, the sixth 
and seventh bays were added; the eighth remains fragmen- 
tary because the owner of the next house refused to sell. 
Moreover, the carving in the sixth and seventh bays is not 
of the same high quality as that in the first five. Perhaps 
Giovanni Rucellai called in Bernardo to extend his palace. 
In any case, scholars now generally give Alberti credit for 
the highly original and influential design of the palazzo. Its 
general principles were followed in many other buildings, 
some actually built, others merely designed (see fig. 14.30). 

SANTA MARIA NOVELLA. Alberti also furnished 
the designs for other projects commissioned by Giovanni 
Rucellai, including the facade for the church of Santa 
Maria Novella (fig. 10.6), which has little in common with 
the Trecento church that it fronts (see fig. 2.34). The white- 
and-green marble structure is the only Florentine church 
facade on a grand scale to be built during the Renaissance. 
In its design Alberti followed the classicizing facade of San 


Miniato al Monte, a Romanesque church overlooking 
Florence, and divided the structure into an arcaded lower 
story surmounted by a temple design with pilasters 
crowned by a pediment. It is here that we see the name of 
the patron in huge Roman capitals and the Rucellai bil- 
lowing sail is repeated at various points on the facade. 
Between the two stories Alberti inserted a mezzanine that 
serves as an attic for one floor and a base for the other. He 
framed the second-story temple on either side with large 
volutes, an ingenious solution to a problem that had per- 
plexed designers of basilica facades for a millennium: how 
to unite a narrow upper story with a wider lower story and 
at the same time mask the sloping roofs that connected the 
two. In France and England the roofs were hidden behind 
towers; in medieval Italy, massive screens were commonly 
used. But Alberti’s volutes make a virtue of necessity by 
hiding the straight slopes of the roof lines behind elegant 
double curves. 

Alberti’s solution is so successful that it is easy to over- 
look the problems he faced in creating a Renaissance facade 
for a centuries-old Gothic structure. When he received the 
commission, he apparently had to retain Gothic elements 
that were already completed: the two side portals, the six 



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10.6. LEONBATTISTA ALBERTI. Facade, Sta. Maria Novella, Florence, c. 1461-70. White marble from Carrara, green marble from Prato. 
Completion of the facade commissioned by Giovanni Rucellai. 


244 


THE QUATTROCENTO 



tomb niches, and the placement of the tondo window. 
At first the problem of creating a classicizing facade that 
could incorporate these elements must have seemed insur- 
mountable. But Alberti enclosed the niches within a round- 
arched blind arcade, repeating their horizontal 
green-and-white banding in the pilasters on both levels, 
and ignored the tondo window by enclosing it within the 
upper temple facade — further proof of his ability to impose 
“harmony and concord” within a difficult situation. 

SANT’ AND RE A, MANTUA. The most surprising 
of Alberti’s innovations as a church architect are found in 
his design for Sant’Andrea at Mantua (figs. 10.7-10.9), even 
though it was built after his death and the current dome, 
added in the eighteenth century, has nothing to do with his 
intentions. Alberti’s innovations at Sant’Andrea are, in part, 
based on his criticism of the use of the ancient Roman 
basilican plan for church architecture. The three-aisled plan 
of the Roman law court adopted for Early Christian churches 
remained standard for church design throughout the Middle 
Ages and into the Renaissance, as is evident in almost 
every church plan previously illustrated (see figs. 6.14, 
6.19). But Alberti maintained that the three-aisled plan 
was unsuited for the worship of “the gods” (he never used 
the word “God,” and in his writings one always reads the 
word “temple,” and never “church”), because the columns 
that divide the nave from the side aisles could conceal the 
ceremonies at the altar for those standing in the aisles. This 
idealistic approach ignored the relationship between the 



rows of columns that divided the nave from the aisles and 
the procession toward the altar that was such a part of the 
developed liturgy. So, eleven hundred years of Christian 
architectural history were summarily dismissed. 

Sant’Andrea was commissioned by Ludovico Gonzaga, 
marquis of Mantua (see figs. 15.24-15.25), in order to 
exhibit to pilgrims a relic of Christ’s blood that St. Longi- 
nus was supposed to have brought to Mantua. In fact, at 
least nine major churches in Italy owe their existence to the 
wave of popular religiosity that, in the late Quattrocento 
and early Cinquecento, took the form of the adoration 
of relics; five are covered in this book (see also figs. 
12.21-12.23, 14.11-14.13, 17.16, 18.1 and 18.54-18.55), 
and none utilized the basilican plan, perhaps because a 
more unified plan could focus attention on the central role 
of the relic at each site. 

For Sant’Andrea, Alberti’s plan (fig. 10.8) was probably 
based on the barrel-vaulted chambers of the ancient 
Roman temple dedicated to Venus and Rome near the 



M-H 1 1 

0 10 20 METERS 

1 1 ' 1 

Above : 10.8. LEONBATTISTA ALBERTI. Plan of 
Sant’Andrea, Mantua, as built. 

Left: 10.7. LEONBATTISTA ALBERTI. Sant’Andrea, Mantua. 
Designed 1470. Marble. Commissioned by Ludovico Gonzaga. 

Of all Alberti’s buildings, perhaps Sant’Andrea best fulfills his 
statement on the desirable balance between decoration and structure: 
“One thing above all which a temple should have, in my opinion, is 
that all its visible qualities should be of such a kind that it is difficult 
to judge whether ... they contribute more to its grace and aptness or 
to its stability.” 


FLORENTINE ARCHITECTURE AND SCULPTURE, c. 1 4 3 0 - 5 5 • 245 



10.9. LEONBATTISTA ALBERTI. Nave, Sant’ Andrea, Mantua. Designed 1470. 


Colosseum. The gigantic barrel vault of Sant’ Andrea (fig. 
10.9) produces a unified spatial effect concentrating on the 
high altar. Nothing hides the ceremony. The lateral arches 
open into chapels, each itself crowned with a barrel vault. 
The single-aisle plan is matched by a single-story elevation, 
for the barrel vault rests directly, without clerestory, on the 
nave entablature, which is itself supported by pilasters on 
tall bases that frame the arched entrances to each of the 
side chapels. The harmony so important for Alberti is 
evident when we realize that Sant’ Andrea’s facade uses this 
same motif of barrel-vaulted opening framed by pairs of 
pilasters on high bases, integrating exterior and interior. 
That the motif is based on the design of ancient Roman 
triumphal arches, such as the Arch of Titus near the 
Roman Forum, reveals Alberti’s continuing indebtedness 
to ancient Rome. For illumination Alberti depended on the 


dome, the huge oculus of the facade, and the smaller oculi 
in the chapels, each showing only the sky, wherein dwell 
“the gods.” 

Alberti’s barrel-vaulted church interior influenced later 
developments throughout Europe, from Donato Bramante 
to Michelangelo and beyond to churches of the Baroque 
(see figs. 17.10-17.15, 20.9-20.11, 20.53-20.55). 

ARCHITECTURE AFTER ALBERTI. The influ- 
ence of Alberti’s ideas was felt all over Italy. Pope Nicholas 
V’s plans for a new papal Rome, centered for the first time 
on St. Peter’s and the Vatican, were developed by Alberti. 
Several buildings in the city are indebted to his innovations 
and create a link between Alberti and the Rome of the 
High Renaissance and even the Baroque. In the sphere of 
urban planning, the influence of Alberti’s ideas expounded 


246 


THE QUATTROCENTO 


in De re aedificatoria is evident in Pius IPs conversion of 
his native village of Corsignano into the papal city of 
Pienza (figs. 10.10-10.11). This project was carried out by 
Bernardo Rossellino, who had commenced the reconstruc- 
tion of St. Peter’s in Rome under Pope Nicholas V, doubt- 
less under the supervision of Alberti. The piazza at Pienza 
is the first of the new Renaissance town designs that was 
actually built. In the Palazzo Piccolomini, Rossellino imi- 
tated the facade articulation of the Palazzo Rucellai, and 
Alberti’s influence is clear in the bold blocks of the con- 
fronting church and palaces, to which pilasters, columns, 
and arches were added as decoration. Alberti’s ideas on 
city planning also influenced other projects, including 
Filarete’s plan for Sforzinda (see fig. 15.61) and the urban- 
istic vision of Luciano Laurana (see fig. 14.30). 

Plans and facades of churches built in Florence in the 
mid- and late Quattrocento show strong Albertian influ- 
ences. The Palazzo Pitti in Florence (fig. 10.12), com- 
menced for Luca Pitti, a wealthy merchant, was attributed 
to Brunelleschi until the discovery that construction did 
not begin until about 1457, more than a decade after his 
death. The Quattrocento structure was originally limited 



Above: 10.10. BERNARDO ROSSELLINO. Plan of Piazza Pio H, 
Pienza. 1459-62. Commissioned by Pope Pius II. 



10.11. BERNARDO ROSSELLINO. Cathedral and Piccolomini Palace, Pienza. 1459-62. Commissioned by Pope Pius II. 

In his autobiography, entitled Commentaries , Pius described the cathedral: “The facade itself is 72 feet high, made of stone resembling the 
Tiburtine, white and shining as marble. It was modeled on those of ancient temples and richly decorated with columns and arches and 
semicircular niches designed to hold statues.... The other walls are of less precious material.... There are three naves, as they are called. 
The middle one is wider. All are the same height. This was according to the directions of Pius who had seen the plan among the Germans 
in Austria. It makes the church more graceful and lighter.” 


FLORENTINE ARCHITECTURE AND SCULPTURE, c. 1 4 3 0-5 5 • 247 





10.12. Palazzo Pitti with the Boboli Gardens and Forte Belvedere, Florence, as seen in a painting by the Flemish artist Giuso Utens, 1598-99. Oil 
on canvas, 56V4 x lUVs" (1.43 x 2.85 m). Museo Storico-Topografico “Firenze Com’era,” Florence. Palace begun 1458. Commissioned by Luca 
Pitti, who owned this large site by 1418. 

This view shows the facade as originally planned, before it was doubled in length in 1618-35. Other wings were added in the eighteenth and 
nineteenth centuries. Both the Boboli Gardens and the Forte Belvedere seen here are sixteenth-century additions to the palace complex. 


to the central seven bays shown in this painting, but it is 
not known whether the later courtyard seen here was orig- 
inally intended. The powerful rustication and the grandeur 
of the superimposed arcades is based on ancient aqueducts, 
the ruins of which can still be found in the countryside 
around Rome. They seem alien to the taste of Brunelleschi 
as we have seen it earlier (see figs. 6.7-6.21), but it has 
been suggested that this dramatic new palace style might 
somehow be related to Brunelleschi’s rejected design for 
Palazzo Medici (see p. 174). Others relate the style to the 
influence of Alberti; one proposed architect is the Floren- 
tine Luca Fancelli, who was not only deeply imbued with 
Albertian ideas, but was also in Florence at the time, and 
built much of Sant’ Andrea in Mantua after Alberti’s 
designs. After the palazzo became the official residence of 
the Medici grand dukes, it was extended during the late 
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (see fig. 20.26), and 
the Boboli Gardens, visible in the painting, were devel- 
oped. In the nineteenth century it served briefly as the res- 
idence of the Italian monarchy when Florence was the new 
nation’s capital. 


ALBERTI AND THE ART OF PAINTING. 
Alberti’s position in relation to the pictorial art of his time 
is striking, but difficult to assess. It is still a moot point 
among scholars whether his ideas on perspective are a sys- 
temization of what the painters and sculptors he had met 
were already doing. In any case, Alberti’s perspective 
theory was based on the medieval tradition of studying 
optics, derived from the writings of Aristotle. De pictura 
and Della pittura are important as the first known treatises 
on painting, as distinguished from handbooks of shop 
practice, such as Cennino Cennini’s Libro delVarte . 

Alberti’s formula for perspective used the height of a 
human being in the foreground as a basic module; the base 
line was then divided into segments corresponding to one- 
third of this height. His system sets the vanishing point at 
the height of the figure above the base line. Whether this 
proportional structure had been outlined by Brunelleschi is 
unknown, but Alberti’s presentation provided clarification 
and a published system that any artist could follow. 

The remainder of Alberti’s treatise is devoted to what he 
calls istoria — which can be translated as “history,” 


248 


THE QUATTROCENTO 


“story”, or “narrative” — and how it should be repre- 
sented, and to a discussion of the education of the painter. 
His three principles of pictorial art consist of circumscrip- 
tion, composition, and reception of light. These principles 
encompass Alberti’s notions on drawing, division of the 
pictorial surface, light and shade, and color, his recom- 
mendations for naturally balanced color constituting a 
direct attack on the often aggressive color patterns of 
Trecento painting. Alberti was concerned with consistency 
and propriety in the representation of persons of various 
ages and various physical and social types, with their reac- 
tions to the dramatic situations in which the istoria placed 
them, and with the delicacies of anatomical rendering of 
bodies and features. He wished the narrative to unfold 
with copiousness and with a variety of humans and 
animals in poses and movements full of grace and 
beauty — a goal that was in opposition not only to the 
figural alignments common in the Trecento, but also to 
those in the compositions of Masaccio. 

Above all, Alberti was well aware of what we might call 
the magical qualities in pictorial art, which he said were 
the foundation of religion and the noblest gift of “the 
gods.” “Painting,” he said, “contains a divine force that 
not only makes absent men present, as friendship is said to 
do, but moreover makes the dead seem almost alive.” 
Alberti viewed the artist as a person whose education 
demanded the intellectual activity of the traditional Liberal 
Arts as well as technical training. Della pittura established 
a new dignity for both the art of painting and the artist, 
and laid a foundation that changed our understanding of 
the visual arts. The treatise’s last words summarize what 
Alberti desired: “Absolute and perfect painting.” 

In many respects Alberti’s ideals harmonize with the art 
of Masaccio, the only painter he mentions in the preface to 
Della pittura , but they are even closer to the painting of 
Fra Filippo Lippi and Fra Angelico, whom Alberti must 
have known personally. The new perspective governs Fra 
Angelico’s Annunciation in the San Marco hallway (see fig. 
9.7) — as distinguished from his pre-Albertian treatment of 
this subject at Cortona (see fig. 9.1) — and his San Marco 
altarpiece (see fig. 9.4). The frequent use of a foreground 
figure who looks out at the spectator in the work of Fra 
Filippo and Fra Angelico, the copiousness and variety of 
their compositions, and their analysis of the reception of 
light all correspond to Alberti’s principles. By the end of 
the century some of the classical subjects he recommended 
were re-created by such painters as Sandro Botticelli and 
Andrea Mantegna (see fig. 13.29). 

In the 1430s and 1440s, the two surviving giants of early 
Quattrocento Florentine sculpture, Ghiberti and 
Donatello, underwent changes of style that are in keeping 
with Alberti’s new doctrine, if not always in accordance 


with its details. Both sculptors may have become 
acquainted with Alberti during visits to Rome prior to 
Alberti’s return to Florence in 1434; the dedication of his 
Della pittura of 1436 to Brunelleschi, Ghiberti, Donatello, 
Masaccio, and Luca della Robbia suggests long friendship. 

Ghiberti after 1425 

Ghiberti’s second set of doors for the Florentine Baptistery, 
the so-called Gates of Paradise (see fig. 10.1), were so pro- 
foundly influenced by Alberti’s ideas that they can almost 
be understood as a programmatic exposition of his theo- 
ries. Ghiberti was in his late forties when he was awarded 
the commission for the final set of baptistery doors, 
devoted to the Old Testament, in 1425. The humanist 
chancellor of Florence, Lionardo Bruni, proposed a scheme 
of twenty-eight scenes that matched the two previous sets 
of doors and would have allowed Ghiberti to use his com- 
petition panel of the Sacrific of Isaac (see figs. 3.33, 
7. 3-7. 4). A second proposal reduced the number of scenes 
to twenty-four, but the final scheme has only ten large 
square fields. This meant, of course, that Ghiberti’s com- 
petition panel could not be incorporated into the final set. 
In the new design, the constricting quatrefoils that had 
framed scenes and figures on the earlier sets are aban- 
doned, and so is the notion of gilded figures and forms set 
against a bronze background; now each square is totally 
gilded, background and all. Donatello had pioneered this 
idea in his marble St. George relief (see fig. 7.14), in which 
he created a unified sense of space without resorting to 
contrasts of color or medium. 

The present title of the doors derives from the fact that 
the area between a baptistery and the entrance to its cathe- 
dral is known in Italian as the paradiso . It is reported that 
Michelangelo, playing on this word, said that Ghiberti’s 
second doors were worthy to be the “Gates of Paradise,” 
and this nickname stuck. The modeling in wax of all ten 
scenes and the friezes of the frame has been dated between 
1429 and 1437, when all were cast in bronze. Finishing, 
gilding, and other time-consuming processes meant that 
the doors were not set in place until 1452. 

Each panel deals with one or more incidents from the 
Old Testament, arranged within a consistent space that 
stretches from foreground into the remote distance. 
Although each panel was cast in a single piece, the fore- 
ground figures are so highly projected that they are almost 
in the round. The level of relief gradually decreases as the 
figures diminish in size and recede into the background, 
the most distant being scarcely raised above the surface. 
The illusion of continuous space is enhanced by the use of 
gold over the entire relief, giving the feeling that figures 
and space are united within a golden atmosphere. 


FLORENTINE ARCHITECTURE AND SCULPTURE, c. 1 4 3 0- 5 5 


2 4 9 


The first scene, the story of Adam and Eve (fig. 10.13), 
shows the Creation of Adam at the lower left, that of Eve 
in the center, the Temptation in the distance at the extreme 
left, and the Expulsion from the Garden at the extreme 
right. The Creation of Eve has a central place because of 
the doctrine that her birth from the side of Adam foretold 
the creation of the Church. This parallel, represented in 
medieval manuscripts and stained glass, was also set forth 
in a chapter of the Summa of St. Antoninus, and it is pos- 
sible that Antoninus was responsible for the programs of 
this and numerous other important Florentine works of 
art (see pp. 224, 228). The chapter from the Summa in 
question is a sermon on St. John the Baptist, to whom the 
Baptistery is dedicated, in which Antoninus compares 
the saint to a lantern whose light, thrown upon the Old 
Testament, brings forth the New. The ten specific Old Tes- 
tament stories discussed by Anoninus are found in nine of 
the ten panels of the doors, which vary only occasionally 
from his text. 

Ghiberti had represented the ideal male nude in the com- 
petition relief for the North Doors of the Baptistery (see 
fig. 7.3) and in the North Doors themselves (see fig. 7.6); 
the female nudes in his Creation relief for the Gates of 
Paradise are noteworthy as the first sensuous female nudes 
of the Renaissance. Although they are not classical in their 
proportions, they have some of the voluptuousness of the 
ancient nude sculptures Ghiberti must have seen in Rome. 


The Creation * s graceful nude male and female figures con- 
trast with the folds of the drapery and the clouds that 
shimmer around the angels and the figure of God. Here 
Ghiberti has created depth only to the limited extent 
needed for the Temptation a few yards off, and there is no 
distant view or horizon line, but in later reliefs on the 
doors he often leads the eyes past events in the middle 
ground into the deep distance. 

By the time he made the Jacob and Esau relief in the 
third row (fig. 10.14), Ghiberti had adopted the perspec- 
tive construction formulated by Alberti in De pictura. Pre- 
sumably the relief was composed shortly after Alberti’s 
arrival in Florence in 1434. The protruding apron that 
Ghiberti had used in the North Doors (see figs. 7. 5-7.6) 
here becomes a base line, divided into sections as Alberti 
indicated, and from these divisions Ghiberti projected 
orthogonals to the central vanishing point. The pavement 
squares in the patch of raised terrace at the right do not 
recede to this vanishing point, and therefore do not corre- 
spond to the Albertian construction. But Ghiberti must 
have realized that these squares, if drawn in rigid con- 
formity to Alberti’s scheme, would have been compressed 
into absurdly distorted shapes. This shortcoming of one- 
point perspective becomes evident at the sides of an 
extended view, where it is necessary to make the transver- 
sals curve away from the picture plane. The narrative 
(which is based on Genesis 25 ) unfolds from the 



10.13. LORENZO GHIBERTI. The Creation, panel from the 
Gates of Paradise (see fig. 10.1) formerly on the Baptistery, Florence, 
c. 1425-37. Gilded bronze, 31 V 4 " (79 cm) square. Museo dell’Opera 
del Duomo, Florence. 



10.14. LORENZO GHIBERTI. Jacob and Esau, panel from 
the Gates of Paradise (see fig. 10.1), formerly on the Baptistery, 
Florence, c. 1435. Gilded bronze, 3 IV 4 " (79 cm) square. Museo 
delPOpera del Duomo, Florence. 




25O 


THE QUATTROCENTO 



background to the foreground. On the rooftop, to the 
right, Rebecca, feeling her twins struggling within her, 
receives God’s explanation of the two hostile peoples who 
will spring from her womb. Under the left arch she appears 
in bed, prepared for childbirth. In the center, partly con- 
cealed by the foreground figures, Esau sells his birthright. 
On the right, “taught by God” according to Antoninus, 
Rebecca rehearses Jacob in his “pious fraud,” which will 
be accomplished by the meat and skin of the kid he holds. 
Esau is seen at the far right going hunting. St. Antoninus’s 
interpretation culminates in the foreground, where Jacob, 
symbolizing the Christians, receives the blessing on the 
step that foretells his vision of a ladder to heaven. The 
disappointed Esau, who confronts Isaac in the center, 
represents the Jews. 

The arches are supported by piers, not columns, and the 
Corinthian order is used as decoration (see pp. 242-44); 



10.15. LORENZO GHIBERTI. Self-Portrait , from the Gates of 
Paradise (see fig. 10.1), c. 1448-52. Gilded bronze. Museo 
dell’Opera del Duomo, Florence. 


presumably Alberti had discussed such ideas before he 
wrote them down in De re aedificatoria . But the architec- 
ture is Albertian in a deeper sense, for Jacob and Esau is 
an early example of a spatial construction that abandons 
the double scale of the Middle Ages in favor of Alberti’s 
doctrine of visual unity. A single scale for figures and archi- 
tecture is achieved by setting the building a measurable dis- 
tance behind the foreground figures and allowing some of 
the incidents to move back into it. The figures, too, 
demonstrate Alberti’s contention that the drapery should 
reveal the beauty of the limbs beneath, as seen in the four 
figures at the extreme left. Every motion is harmonious 
within the perfectly coordinated space. Running across 
both doors just above eye level, Ghiberti’s conspicuous 
signature reminds us who was responsible for this 
“marvelous art”. Nearby is his self-portrait in a medallion 
of the frame (fig. 10.15); it is an unforgettable self- 
assessment. In Alberti’s phrase, Ghiberti has made “the 
dead seem almost alive.” 

Luca della Robbia 

Alberti’s introductory note to Della pittura contains one 
name that is surprising, since Luca della Robbia (1399 or 
1400-1482) does not seem to belong in the same league as 
Brunelleschi, Ghiberti, Donatello, and Masaccio, the other 
artists mentioned. Writing as he was in the 1430s, Alberti’s 
confidence was doubtless based on the marble Cantoria 
(choir gallery) being carved by Luca to be placed over the 
door of the left sacristy of Florence Cathedral. Both Luca’s 
gallery (fig. 10.16) and Donatello’s over the door of the 
right sacristy (see fig. 10.19) were removed when the musical 
requirements for a grand-ducal wedding in the seventeenth 
century rendered them obsolete. In the historical docu- 
ments, Luca’s Cantoria is described as an “organ pulpit,” 
but that by no means excludes singers and perhaps other 
instrumentalists as well, given the small choirs and portable 
organs of the period. Documents reveal that a “small” organ 
was mounted on Donatello’s Cantoria during the 1440s. 

Luca’s gallery consists of a parapet divided by paired 
pilasters supported on consoles. The marble panels are 
carved with music-making children and adolescents illus- 
trating Psalm 150, which is inscribed on the Cantoria. The 
children praise the Lord “with the sound of the trumpet ... 
with the psaltery and harp ... with the timbrel and dance 
. . . with stringed instruments and organs . . . upon the high- 
sounding cymbals.” They are beautifully grouped in 
compositions that are centralized or balanced — moving, 
playing, singing in relaxed happiness. His famous singing 
boys — some treble, some bass (fig. 10.17) — offer an unex- 
pected touch of real experience within the idealized figures 
and graceful compositions. 


FLORENTINE ARCHITECTURE AND SCULPTURE, c. 1 4 3 0- 5 5 


Z 5 I 




10.16. LUCA DELLA ROBBIA. Cantona. 
1431-38. Marble, length 17' (5.18 m). JVlusco 
dell’Opera del Duomo, Florence. Removed from the 
Duomo. Commissioned by the Opera del Duomo. 
Luca’s Cantoria , like Donatello’s (see fig. 10.19), 
was dismembered in 1688 and reconstructed only in 
the late nineteenth century, a re-creation that later 
had to be corrected. Two bronze figures of putti 
in the Musee Jacquemart- Andre, Paris, have been 
identified as part of the Cantona , but this 
attribution has not been accepted by all scholars. 

To posterity, however, the name Della Robbia has more 
commonly been associated with works in enameled terra- 
cotta with white figures against a blue background. These 
durable and colorful works, made following a formula 
invented by Luca in the 1430s, could be placed both inside 
and out. Luca’s nephew and successor, Andrea della 
Robbia, and a host of assistants, continued the Della 
Robbia workshop well into the sixteenth century. 

Luca’s earliest large enameled terra-cotta was a commis- 
sion in 1442 for the Resurrection relief (fig, 10.18) over 
the door of the left sacristy of the Florentine Duomo. It 
therefore would have sat directly under his Cantona. As 
Brunelleschi’s dome was nearing completion, it must have 
been evident that the high altar area would be dark, and 
Luca’s enameled terra-cotta was a good solution to the 
problem of how to enliven this area. The gold highlighting 
of certain details, now largely lost, would have given 
additional interest to the relief. The stable, symmetrical 



10.17. Singing Boys , end panel from the Cantoria 
(see fig. 10.16). Marble, 38 x24" (96 x 61 cm). 


252 


THE QUATTROCENTO 




10.18. LUCA DELLA ROBBIA. Resurrection. 1442-45. Blue and white enameled terra-cotta with surface gilding in the halo of Christ, the hair 
and wings of the angels, the armor, and elsewhere, 67" x 8 ' 8 " (2 x 2.65 m). North Sacristy Doors. 1446-75. Bronze, 13’8" x 67” (4.2 x 2 m); 
each panel 20 Vs x 20 7 /8" (53 x 53 cm), it Cathedral, Florence. Both commissioned by the Opera del Duomo. 

The seated figures flanked by angels on the doors include the Madonna and Child, the four Evangelists, and five other saints, including the patron 
of Florence, St. John the Baptist. Above this door was originally placed Luca della Robbia’s Cantoria (see figs. 10.16-10.17). 


FLORENTINE ARCHITECTURE AND SCULPTURE, c. 1430- 5 5 


i 5 3 


composition is typical of Luca’s works, while the body of 
Christ, the togalike drapery, and the armor of the soldiers 
reveal how fully he had absorbed the classicism already 
demonstrated in the work of his fellow sculptors. 

Two sets of bronze doors for the paired sacristies of 
Florence Cathedral were commissioned from Donatello in 
1437, but because he made little progress, his commission 
for one set was in 1446 transferred to Luca della Robbia, 
Michelozzo, and Maso di Bartolommeo. The final 
payment for these doors was not made until they were put 
into place in 1475. While the model for the panel of St. 
Gregory the Great on the lower left has been attributed to 
Maso di Bartolommeo, the other nine were designed by 
Luca. The technique of the details is refined, but the com- 
positions, which repeat the same motif of a seated figure 
flanked by angels ten times, are uninspired. It was these 
doors that saved the life of Lorenzo de’ Medici at the time 
of the Pazzi Conspiracy of 1478 (see pp. 297-98). 


Donatello (c. 1433 to c. 1455) 

What a contrast there is between Luca’s serenity and the 
energy of Donatello’s Cantoria (fig. 10.19)! Donatello was 
in Rome in 1432-33, and all the elements of his Cantoria 
are found in classical art — the egg-and-dart molding, the 
acanthus, the palmetto, the shell, the urn, the mask, and 
the paired dolphins that were part of the original decora- 
tion. But they never appear in antiquity in such combina- 
tions or with such proportional relationships. Even the 
most basic architectural elements are unconventional and 
unexpected. Donatello’s consoles, for example, have hori- 
zontal and vertical volutes that seem about to collide. Every 
surface is ornamented, and the colonnettes and backgrounds 
are enlivened by rows of inlaid, colored marble disks. 

Behind the colonnade surges a torrent of intense activity. 
Donatello’s children refuse to be constricted by the neat 
frames of Luca della Robbia and seem to rush wildly through 






/ \ /A /TT 

MM 



10.19. DONATELLO. Cantoria . 1433-39. Marble, bronze, and mosaic, length 18’8" ( 5.7 m). Museo dell’Opera del 
Duomo, Florence. Removed from the Duomo. Commissioned by the Opera del Duomo. 

When Donatello’s Cantoria was reconstructed in the late nineteenth century, the upper frieze was incorrectly re-created; 
in addition to the palmettes and vases seen here, it should also include pairs of dolphins flanking shells. 


254 • THE QUATTROCENTO 


space in jubilant dynamism. Transparent tunics cling to 
their limbs and feathery wings erupt from their shoulders. 
The result is a work of intense dynamism. Subsequent gen- 
erations ranked Donatello’s Cantoria higher than Luca’s 
smooth and somewhat static work; Vasari, for example, 
wrote with enthusiasm of the sketchy freedom of 
Donatello’s surfaces, which from a distance produced an 
effect of far greater vigor in its original dim cathedral setting. 

One of Donatello’s most delightful works, the so-called 
Atys-Amorino , was probably produced around the same 
time (fig. 10.20). While the carefree air suggests an ancient 
subject, no one has been able to identify which Greek or 
Roman figure might have been intended. If this work does 
indeed date from the 1430s and the subject is antique, then 
this would represent one of the earliest Renaissance works 
on an ancient theme. The combination of attributes — the 
figure’s youth, the exposure of his genitals by unusual leg- 
gings, the wings on his shoulders and sandals, his little 
satyr tail, the snake that coils around his feet, the poppy 
heads decorating his belt, the cord tied around his head 
decorated with a poppy — do not point to any single classi- 
cal deity. It seems likely that this joyful figure once held 
something that provided a clue to the union of such 



10.20. DONATELLO. Atys-Amorino. c. 1435-40(?). Bronze, with 
traces of original gilding on the belt, hair, and wings, height 41 " 
(1.04 m). Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence. By 1677 this 
sculpture was being identified as an ancient work. 


disparate attributes. Perhaps this is a construct by a 
Renaissance humanist who synthesized several antique 
themes into a single figure. 

The Atys-Amorino was almost certainly intended for a 
domestic setting, but where it might have been placed in a 
Renaissance home or garden is unknown. Despite these 
uncertainties, the infectious mood created by the figure’s 
carefree expression and relaxed contrapposto stance is yet 
another example of both the antique revival in the Renais- 
sance and the diversity of Donatello’s style. 

The Annunciation (fig. 10.21) shows another aspect 
of Donatello’s new classicism. The architecture is as 








. ; i 





10.21. DONATELLO. Annunciation. 1430s. Limestone and terra- 
cotta with gilding, 13'9" x 9' (4.20 x 2.75 m). Hi Sta. Croce, Florence. 
Commissioned by a member of the Cavalcanti family. 


FLORENTINE ARCHITECTURE AND SCULPTURE, c. 1 4 3 0- 5 5 • 2 55 





unconventional as that of the Cantoria , for a colossal egg- 
and-dart molding invades the frieze, and masks form the 
capitals. The terra-cotta putti above the arched pediment 
may be a reference to Etruscan temples, which Vitruvius 
reported had terra-cotta figures decorating their roofs. 
Donatello’s treatment of the traditional narrative is subtle: 
Mary gently recoils in fear from the message of the kneel- 
ing angel before suddenly turning toward him, placing her 
hand on her heart to indicate her acceptance of his unex- 
pected message. The faces of Mary and the angel, with 
their straight Greek noses, low foreheads, and hair drawn 
back from a central parting, are among Donatello’s most 
classical passages. But neither these nor the evident classi- 
cism of the drapery can submerge the emotional tension 
evident in the momentary poses and complex surfaces. 

The least expected work of this period in any medium is 
Donatello’s bronze nude David (fig. 10.22), the earliest 
known free-standing nude statue in the round since antiq- 
uity. This fact alone would make it an important example 
of Renaissance art. What is equally remarkable, especially 
in comparison with Donatello’s earlier marble David (see 
fig. 7.11) is the sculptor’s interpretation of the theme. The 
slight boy, clothed only in ornamented leather boots and a 
hat crowned with laurel, stands with one hand on his hip 
and the other gripping Goliath’s great sword. The con- 
trapposto first seen in Donatello’s St. Mark (see fig. 7.12) 
is more emphatic here — an effect enhanced by the active 
positions of the arms. David’s pose seems self-conscious, as 
if the boy hero, who is described in the Bible as “ruddy, 
and fine in appearance with handsome features” (1 Samuel 
17:42), is aware of his own beauty. The Bible also supports 
Donatello’s representation of David as nude, for the boy at 
first put on the armor of Saul in preparation to do battle 
with the giant but then took it off (1 Samuel 17:38-39). 
The pose emphasizes the free-standing nature of the 
work, urging us to study it from various viewpoints. 
David’s face is largely shaded by the hat, leaving his 
expression mysterious. 

In the scholarly and popular literature on Donatello, the 
frankly sensuous nature of this David has been cited as an 
indication of the artist’s homosexuality. The facts about 
Donatello’s personal life are limited, but it must be remem- 
bered that this expensive bronze would not have been 
made for Donatello’s personal satisfaction. Whatever its 
intended setting, the Medici, who seem to have commis- 
sioned it, found it appropriate to place the sculpture in a 
central position in their palace, visible from the street (see 
fig. 6.26). The palace’s politicized decor included works 
that refer to traditional Florentine themes — for example, 
Hercules (see figs. 13.2-13.4) and the Old Testament 
heroine Judith (see fig. 12.7) — while Paolo Uccello’s Battle 
of San Romano series (see figs. 11.5-11.6) celebrated a 



10.22. DONATELLO. David, c. 1446-60(?). Bronze, with traces of 
gilded details; height 62 V 4 " (1.58 m). Museo Nazionale del Bargello, 
Florence. Perhaps commissioned by Cosimo de’ Medici for the 
courtyard of the Palazzo Medici (see fig. 6.26). 

While the figure was still in the Medici courtyard it bore an 
inscription stating: “The victor is whoever defends the fatherland. 
All-powerful God crushes the angry enemy. Behold, a boy overcame 
the great tyrant. Conquer, O citizens!” 


z 5 6 • 


THE QUATTROCENTO 


Florentine victory. In the Speculum bumanae salvationis — 
a fourteenth-century compendium of imagery, widely 
reprinted in the fifteenth century, connecting personages 
and events of the Old and New Testaments, David’s 
victory over Goliath symbolizes Christ’s triumph over 
Satan. The figure of David has also been recognized as a 
potent symbol for the city of Florence. The laurel crown on 
the hat and the laurel wreath on which David stands are 
probably allusions to the Medici family, but they could 
also refer to David’s later activities as a poet. Perhaps the 
distinctly unheroic nature of Donatello’s bronze David is 
intended to emphasize that even this unlikely hero could, 
with the help of God — as is emphasized in the Bible (1 
Samuel 17:4 6^7 ) — defeat a giant who was threatening his 
homeland. Whether the figure was intended from the 
beginning to stand in the Medici courtyard is unknown, 
but its emphatic three-dimensionality suggests that 
Donatello must have been inspired by a location that 
would encourage multiple viewpoints. 

Donatello’s activity in Florence was interrupted when he 
left for Padua in the early 1440s. Remaining there for more 
than a decade, he changed the course of sculpture and 
painting in northern Italy. A whole school of painting grew 
up around him while he was, as he put it, among the 
Paduan “fogs and frogs.” Vasari explained that Donatello 
disliked the adulation he received in Padua and was glad to 
return to Florence, where he knew that the habitual criti- 
cal attitude of the Florentines would spur him on to greater 
achievements. This comment introduces an essential aspect 
of the Florentine Renaissance, in which conflict of wills 
was a determinant of style. 

Donatello was probably called to Padua to execute the 
colossal equestrian statue in bronze of the Venetian con- 
dottiere Erasmo da Narni, whose nickname was Gattame- 
lata (“Honeyed Cat” or “Calico Cat”). The monument 
still stands in the square in front of the basilica of Sant’ 
Antonio, where Donatello placed it after its completion in 
1453 (fig. 10.23), although the tombs that must have sur- 
rounded it have disappeared. Although the funds for the 
work were provided by the dead general’s family according 
to a stipulation in his will, this kind of monument, previ- 
ously reserved for rulers, must have been authorized by a 
decree of the Venetian Senate, who in 1438 had awarded 
Erasmo da Narni the baton the figure holds. 

The Gattamelata is not the first equestrian monument of 
the late Middle Ages and Renaissance in Italy. In Florence, 
Donatello had an inspiring forerunner in Uccello’s frescoed 
Sir John Hawkwood (see fig. 11.3). All the Tuscan exam- 
ples, however, had been intended for interiors. In the Tre- 
cento, the ruling Scala family of Verona had built outdoor 
tombs surmounted by equestrian statues (see fig. 5.25), 
and Bonino da Campione had created an amazing monu- 



ment to Bernabo Visconti (see fig. 5.20). In 1441 Niccolo 
d’Este was commemorated by an equestrian statue by 
two otherwise unknown Florentine sculptors, which stood 
in front of the Cathedral of Ferrara until it was destroyed 
in 1796. 

Donatello was primarily influenced, however, by surviv- 
ing ancient Greek and Roman examples: the Marcus Aure- 
lius in Rome (see fig. 1.4), then thought to represent 
Constantine; the so-called Regisole in Pavia, an imperial 
statue now lost; and the quadriga of horses on the facade 
of San Marco in Venice. Donatello’s sculpture rivals the 
Marcus Aurelius in majesty and surpasses it in determina- 
tion. Realizing the effect of the high base and the vast 
space in which the Gattamelata was to be placed, 
Donatello restricted his design to bold masses and power- 
ful tensions. Any minor shapes that might compete with 
the broad curves of the horse’s anatomy are suppressed. 
The tail, tied at the end, forms a taut arc, while the horse’s 
left forehoof, poised on a cannonball, forms another. The 
powerful diagonal of the general’s baton and sword ties the 


10.23. DONATELLO. Equestrian Monument of Gattamelata. 
c. 1445-53. Bronze, height 12'2" (3.7 m). m Piazza del Santo, Padua. 
Commissioned by the Venetian Senate. 


FLORENTINE ARCHITECTURE AND SCULPTURE, c. 1 4 3 0- 5 5 * 2,57 


composition together from above the horse’s head down 
to his hind leg. 

Donatello may well have seen Gattamelata himself in 
Florence or Rome, and it is likely that the head reproduces 
his features. The compressed lips, firmly set jaw, wide eyes, 
and heavy, arched brows all suggest a powerful personal- 
ity in the prime of life (fig. 10.24). The horse, with his 
swelling veins, open jaws and flaring eyes and nostrils, is 
under the general’s control. Donatello has created a majes- 
tic image of command. Although the humanist Vespasiano 
da Bisticci was so devoted to the contemporary cult of 
personality that he wrote Lives of Illustrious Men of the 
Fifteenth Century , he never set before his public a charac- 
ter more imposing than Gattamelata. 

The general is dressed in fifteenth-century armor, com- 
plete with giant broadsword and greaves, but Donatello 
borrowed the kilt and short sleeves made of leather thongs 
from ancient Roman military costume. Victory masks and 
winged genii, flying or on horseback, decorate the armor 
and saddle. On the breastplate, a winged victory crying out 
in fury enhances, by contrast, the composure of the 
general. Virtually every element contributes to the impres- 
sion of emotional and physical forces held under stern 


A 



10.24. Head of Gattamelata, detail of fig. 10.23. 


control. In the Gattamelata , Donatello created the ideal 
man of the Renaissance, the exemplar of Albertian virtus. 
Donatello’s other major commission in Padua was the high 
altar of Sant’ Antonio, a grand architectural construction 
decorated with four large narrative reliefs, a number of 
smaller ones, and seven life-sized statues in bronze. The 
altar, remodeled in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries 
and wrongly restored at the end of the nineteenth, no 
longer looks at all as Donatello intended. The individual 
reliefs and statues are unchanged, but their ambience is 
lost; a painted altarpiece by Mantegna may reflect some- 
thing of Donatello’s original design (see fig. 15.19). 

The complex architectural settings of Donatello’s four 
reliefs representing the legend of St. Anthony of Padua 
(figs. 10.25-10.26) may be understood as his answer to 
Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise (see figs. 10.1, 10.14). Less 
harmonious, they present an explosive new conception of 
space as an alternative to Ghiberti’s adherence to Albertian 
principles. The Miracle of the Believing Donkey (fig. 

10.25) , for example, tells how a skeptic refused to accept 
the presence of the body of Christ in the Eucharist unless 
his donkey would kneel down and worship it, which the 
animal promptly did. Donatello shows St. Anthony 
turning from the altar with the consecrated bread as the 
beast kneels on the top step. The crowds of the faithful are 
struck by astonishment, their lively poses and agitated 
drapery creating a vigorous surface pattern. The low view- 
point excludes any Albertian floor squares, and the figures 
are dwarfed by a construction with barrel vaults recalling 
the ancient basilica of Maxentius and Constantine in 
Rome. Donatello has filled the openings with metal grilles, 
through which one sees other barrel vaults and grilles. 
Between the arches, pilasters with modified Corinthian 
capitals support an entablature. This spatial formulation 
breaks forward and outward rather than receding 
smoothly into the distance, in sharp contrast to the more 
conventional treatment of space in the Gates of Paradise. 

St. Anthony of Padua Healing the Wrathful Son (fig. 

10.26) is even more surprising. Here Anthony heals the leg 
of a young man who had cut off his foot in remorse for 
kicking his mother. In the stadium-like setting, most of the 
elements recede according to the new perspectival conven- 
tion, but a fantastic building in the background and a 
structure with a flight of steps in the right foreground are 
set at angles to the main axis and refuse to conform, as if 
to provide a spatial fracturing appropriate to the theme. 
Clouds float in Donatello’s sculptured sky, and the sun 
throws out sword-shaped rays. 

Donatello’s dramatic compositions must have been a 
revelation for the north Italian painters of his day, and 
their influence continued to make an impact for the next 
century and a half. 


2 5 8 


THE QUATTROCENTO 







10.25, 10.26. DONATELLO. Miracle of the Believing Donkey and St. Anthony of Padua Healing the Wrathful Son. 1444-49. Bronze, each 
22 V 2 x 48 V 2 " (57 x 123 cm). Reliefs on the high altar, tl Sant’ Antonio, Padua. Commissioned by the Area del Santo for Sant’ Antonio, Padua. 


FLORENTINE ARCHITECTURE AND SCULPTURE, c. 1 4 3 0 - 5 5 * 259 





10.27. BERNARDO ROSSELLINO. Tomb of Lionardo Bruni. c. 1445. White and colored marbles, 20' x 10'4V2" (6.1 x 3.2 m). m Sta. Croce, 
Florence. Commissioned by the Signoria of Florence or the College and Council of Arezzo. Originally certain details were colored and/or gilded. 


2 6 0 


THE QUATTROCENTO 



Florentine Tomb Sculpture 

Throughout the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, 
sculptors on the Italian peninsula were kept busy produc- 
ing funerary monuments, from simple floor slabs to splen- 
did constructions erected on walls and even, when space 
on the walls was running out, squeezed onto the piers of 
churches. One of the most impressive wall tombs is that of 
Lionardo Bruni (fig. 10.27), the chancellor of the Floren- 
tine Republic and an eminent humanist scholar, by 
Bernardo Rossellino (1409-1464), the sculptor and archi- 
tect who worked on the Palazzo Rucellai, and in Pienza. 
Bernardo was the fourth of five brothers who were stone- 
cutters from Settignano (Antonio, the youngest, will be 
discussed later). In the tomb, the effigy of the chancellor, 
holding one of his own books, lies on a bier upheld by 
eagles. Angels in relief, posed like winged victories, 
support a tablet with a Latin inscription: “After Lionardo 
departed from life, history is in mourning and eloquence is 
dumb, and it is said that the Muses, Greek and Latin alike, 
cannot restrain their tears.” Above, the Virgin and Child 
are flanked by angels, while at the top others steady a 
shield with the marzocco (lion) of the Florentine Republic. 
The rugged features of the old statesman are turned 
toward us, his brow crowned with laurel. In his clear-cut, 
simple arrangement and emphasis on the dignity of the 
individual, Bernardo established the standard type of the 
Florentine wall tomb. 

The Portrait Bust 

The first dated Renaissance portrait bust is one of a pair of 
portraits of the Medici brothers, Piero (fig. 10.28) and 
Giovanni, sculpted by Mino da Fiesole (1429-1484) while 
both sitters were still alive. Underneath each bust is a full 
identification: name and age, year of bust, name of sculp- 
tor. The busts mark a distinct change from the patronage 
of Cosimo il Vecchio, the sitters’ father, who had avoided 
the kind of personal ostentation and commemoration sug- 
gested by these works. In the following decades such por- 
traiture would not be limited to the Medici family. 

Although we prize such portraits for the glimpse they 
give us into Renaissance attitudes toward the significance 
of the individual, their function as objects in Renaissance 
society is far from clear. We know that busts were some- 
times placed over the exterior and interior doorways of 
Renaissance palaces, but whether they played any particu- 


lar role in family ritual is uncertain. Although the com- 
memoration of the individual is an idea derived from 
Greek and Roman writings, ancient Roman portrait busts 
do not seem to have been a visual source for Mino’s por- 
traits, since the form of Mino’s busts, with the figure cut 
off at chest level, is not related to ancient prototypes. 

The innovations of the artists discussed in chapters 9 
and 10 are based on the achievements of Brunelleschi and 
Masaccio. Classical references are frequent in architecture, 
the settings of paintings, and in works of sculpture. Masac- 
cio’s naturalism, which could be blunt at times, is modified 
in some works by a greater interest in idealism. An increas- 
ingly subtle use of perspective is demonstrated in both 
paintings and relief sculptures. These developments laid 
the groundwork for later Quattrocento art in Florence. 



10.28. MINO DA FIESOLE. Portrait of Piero de 3 Medici. 1453. 
Marble, height 18" (46 cm). Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence. 
Most likely commissioned by Piero de’ Medici. 

The carved pattern suggests a sumptuous brocade; it is decorated 
with emblems of the sitter and his family, including a diamond ring 
intertwined with a ribbon and the word SEMPER (always). 


FLORENTINE ARCHITECTURE AND SCULPTURE, c. 1 4 3 0 - 5 5 


Z6l 









11 

FLORENTINE PAINTING AT 

MID-CENTURY 


F our painters, each with a distinctive 
individual style — Paolo Uccello, Domenico 
Veneziano, Andrea del Castagno, and Piero 
della Francesca — demonstrate the impact of 
the ideas that concerned Leonbattista Alberti. 
These four were active when Fra Angelico and Fra Filippo 
Lippi were still at work (see Chapter 9); the age gap 
between these six artists was insignificant, so there must 
have been considerable interchange among them. In the 
works of their imitators, after mid-century, the styles of all 
six tend to fuse. 

Paolo Uccello 

Paolo di Dono, known as Paolo Uccello (Paul “Bird,” 
c. 1397-1475) was apprenticed to Lorenzo Ghiberti in 
1407 as a garzone (the Italian word for “boy” or 
“y°uth”). Although Uccello had a long life, he seems to 
have painted little, and although he occasionally received 
an important commission, he was never responsible for a 
major altarpiece or large fresco cycle. At least twice his 
patrons complained of the unconventionality of his work. 
In his tax declaration of 1469, he lamented that he was old 
and infirm, had no means of livelihood, and that his wife 
was sick. 

Everything about his mature work indicates Uccello’s 
fascination with perspective (fig. 11.2). Giorgio Vasari 
wrote that Uccello could use perspective to represent a 
polyhedron with seventy-two sides projected in space. 
While this would be impressive in and of itself, Uccello 
added a further complication by projecting a stick with a 



11.2. PAOLO UCCELLO. Perspective Study . c. 143CMK). Pen and 
ink, IIV 2 x 9 V 2 " (29 x 24.1 cm). Gabinetto dei Disegni e Stampe, 
Uffizi Gallery, Florence. This is only one of several drawings of 
objects in perspective by Uccello. 


Opposite: 11.1. ANDREA DEL CASTAGNO. Last Supper and, above, the Resurrection, Crucifixion , and Entombment. 1447. Frescoes, 
width of wall 32’ (9.76 m). Cenacolo (refectory) of Sant’Apollonia, Florence. For the sinopia , see fig. 1.16. 


FLORENTINE PAINTING AT MID-CENTURY * 2,63 


scroll from each of the seventy-two sides, all executed in 
perfect recession. Also from Vasari comes the delightful 
tale that Uccello once refused to leave his work to follow 
his wife to bed, answering, “What a sweet mistress is this 
perspective.” He seems to have viewed perspective as a 
challenge and perhaps also as a game. 

Little remains of Uccello’s artistic achievements before 
his fortieth year. His documented work at San Marco in 
Venice in 1425-27 is presumed lost, unless certain decora- 
tive mosaic designs attributed to him can be accepted. His 
earliest dated painting is a frescoed monument to the 
English condottiere Sir John Hawkwood (fig. 11.3). Before 
his death in 1394, the city of Florence promised Hawk- 
wood an equestrian monument sculpted in marble; instead 
they substituted a fresco in the cathedral by Agnolo Gaddi 
and Giuliano Pesello, painted in 1395. This was later 
replaced with Uccello’s version, which gives the illusion 
that the monument is bronze. Like Donatello’s later Gat - 
tamelata (see fig. 10.23), Uccello’s Hawkwood monument 
emphasizes the rider’s control of the horse, but the Hawk- 
wood monument is less tense: the baton is lifted lightly, the 
forehoof paws the air, the tail flows free. In contrast to the 
Roman trappings of Gattamelata , Uccello’s general wears 
contemporary armor, cloak, and cap. 

The pedestal rests on a base supported by three consoles, 
not unlike those of Luca della Robbia’s Cantoria , also 
designed for the cathedral (see fig. 10.16). The fresco has 
been detached and is now, unfortunately, hung lower on 
the wall than its original placement, causing the consoles 
to lose their full illusionistic effect. Following the principles 
of Brunelleschi and Alberti, Uccello had established the 
original vanishing point to coincide with the eye level of a 
person standing in the side aisle; the vanishing point is now 
below the level of the cathedral pavement. The lowering of 
the painting does not matter for horse and rider, however, 
who are seen as if they are on the same level as the viewer. 
The disjunction between two viewpoints is disturbing once 
it is noted, and it is surprising given Uccello’s interest in 
perspective. Documents may provide an explanation, for 
Uccello’s patrons objected to his first horse and rider, and 
he was forced to repaint them. Perhaps Uccello, who seems 
to have been a lifelong practical joker, originally repre- 
sented horse and rider from a worm’s-eye view that would 
have emphasized the horse’s belly and shown little of the 
rider except for the bottoms of his feet and the underside 
of his chin and nose. Its accuracy notwithstanding, such a 
representation would surely not have satisfied his patrons. 
In any case, the discrepancies in the finished fresco are 
noticed only after a thoughtful analysis. 

Despite the inconsistency of viewpoints, Uccello’s 
monument may well have tricked Quattrocento viewers 
into believing that Hawkwood had been granted a genuine 



11.3. PAOLO UCCELLO. Sir John Hawkwood. 1436. Fresco, 
transferred to canvas; 24' x 13'3 " (7.32 x 4.04 m). Cathedral, 
Florence. Commissioned by the Opera del Duomo, Florence. 
Hawkwood was bom in about 1320 in Essex; he died in 1394 and 
received a grand funeral from the Florentine state. His remains 
were buried in England; thus Uccello’s fresco functions more as a 
memorial than as a tomb marker. 


bronze monument instead of a less prestigious marble one. 
Today the illusion is reduced because the background color 
surrounding Uccello’s fresco no longer matches the Duomo 
walls, and, to make matters worse, the monument is 
enclosed in a later, frescoed frame (not shown here). It now 
reads like a painting hung on the Duomo wall. 

Uccello’s fresco representing The Deluge in the Chiostro 
Verde (Green Cloister) of Santa Maria Novella (fig. 11.4) 
is part of a cycle started earlier by various painters, includ- 
ing Uccello himself. The cloister acquired its name because 
the frescoes were largely painted in a terra verde (green 


264 * 


THE QUATTROCENTO 





11.4. PAOLO UCCELLO. The Deluge, c. 1445-55 (?) Fresco, 7' x 16' 9" (2.15 x 5.1 m). Chiostro Verde, Sta. Maria Novella, Florence. 
The scenes below are The Sacrifice of Noah and Noah’s Drunkenness. 


earth) monochrome. The cycle has been damaged (ironi- 
cally enough, considering Uccello’s subject) by floods over 
the centuries, but the work is still impressive. Uccello 
shows us two scenes within the lunette, giving two views 
of Noah’s pyramidal ark, side by side, and creating a 
strong perspective recession in the center. As no border 
divides the episodes, the figures in the scenes overlap. On 
the left, the ark is threatened by thunder, lightning, wind, 
and rain. A lightning bolt strikes in the distance, casting 
the shadow of a tree being blown away by a wind god, 
whose inclusion was recommended by Alberti. Doomed 
humans try to board the ark. Riding a swimming horse, 
one brandishes a sword and is threatened by another with 
a club, while a third clutches at the ark with his fingers. 
Others try to stay afloat on wreckage or in barrels. The 
club-bearer wears one of the favorite subjects of Uccello’s 
perspective investigations, the mazzocchio , a faceted con- 
struction of wire or wicker around which a turban-shaped 
headdress was draped. The mazzocchio has slipped round 


the figure’s neck, and the hair on one side of his head 
remains neatly combed, while the other side is disheveled 
by the wind. A ladder floats parallel to the ark, providing 
two more Albertian orthogonals. 

On the right the ark has come to rest, and Noah leans 
from its window as the dove, sent forth to discover dry 
land, returns. Below the ark is the corpse of a drowned 
child; a raven picks out the eyes of another. The cloaked 
man standing in the right foreground with one hand 
raised, while two hands clutch his ankles from the water 
below, has been difficult to identify. The powerful drapery 
masses, the intensity of the faces, and the sense of tragedy 
in the individual figures and groups are compelling enough 
to make us overlook the riddles Uccello seems to pose. 

Uccello’s three panels of the Battle of San Romano (see 
figs. 11.5-11.6) recall a Florentine victory over the Sienese 
in 1432. Commissioned by a member of a prominent 
Florentine family, in 1484 they were moved to the Medici 
Palace at the command of Lorenzo il Magnifico. Originally 


FLORENTINE PAINTING AT MID-CENTURY * 2,65 


arched to fit into a vaulted chamber, the panels’ tops were 
later truncated, explaining why no horizon line or sky is 
visible today. The three panels form a continuing interlace 
of horses, horsemen, and weapons on a narrow foreground 
stage separated from the landscape background by a screen 
of fantastic fruit trees, creating a tapestry-like effect. The 
brilliant colors would have been enhanced by the silver 
armor (now tarnished and largely unrestorable). 

As a whole the battle panels lack the intensity felt in The 
Deluge. The rearing horses seem rather wooden, and the 
impression is of a tournament rather than a military 
engagement. This is partly due to Uccello’s geometriciza- 
tion of the forms, as well as his emphasis on ornament 
rather than the grim reality of battle; Uccello’s concern with 
perspective also distracts from the subject matter. Most of 
the broken lances have fallen as Albertian orthogonals, as 
have pieces of armor, including, in the lower left-hand corner 
of one panel (fig. 11.5), a shield. Around this is wrapped a 
scroll bearing Uccello’s signature in perspective, reminding 
us that perspective demonstrations often included such 
scrolls rotating in space. Horses and horsemen are seen in 


profile or in foreshortening so that they recede into depth 
or plunge toward the spectator, often at right angles to the 
orthogonals formed by the lances. In one instance, at the 
lower left of the London panel (fig. 11.6), a soldier has 
conveniently fallen on a perspective orthogonal, perpendi- 
cular to the picture plane. It is as if perspective is not a phe- 
nomenon of vision, but a magical process, implicit in the 
air, able to force its will on persons and objects. 

Although the landscape looks stylized, it resembles the 
hills divided into fields still visible in the Arno Valley. All 
sorts of things go on in this background: hand-to-hand 
combat and soldiers in pursuit of the enemy expand the 
main narrative, while a dog is shown in hot pursuit of a 
rabbit, and peasants bring baskets of grapes to the wine 
press. The latter two add a sense of daily life and would 
have been more prominent had the expanse of landscape 
leading back to the horizon and sky not been cut away. 
Like so many of the seemingly minor episodes captured in 
the background of Renaissance paintings, they express the 
desire of artists of the period to capture the full extent of 
human experience. 



11.5. PAOLO UCCELLO. Battle of San Romano, c. 1435-60. Panel, 6' x 10'5" (1.82 x 3.23 m). Uffizi Gallery, Florence. Commissioned by 
Lionardo di Bartolomeo Bartolini Salimbeni. Uccello’s signature is on the shield in the lower left corner. The signature and the central position of 
Niccolo da Tolentino, leader of the Florentine forces, in this panel suggest that it may have been the center one in the series of three, only two of 
which are reproduced here. 


266 


THE QUATTROCENTO 




11.6. PAOLO UCCELLO. Battle of San Romano, c. 1435-60. Panel, 6' x 10'5" {1.82 x 3.23 m). National Gallery, London. Commissioned by 
Lorenzo di Bartolomeo Bartolini Salimbeni. An inventory made of the contents of the Medici Palace in 1492 lists the three panels of the Battle of 
San Romano in a bedroom that had belonged to Lorenzo il Magnifico; the other contents of the room including a bed with intarsia decoration, 
seven brass candelabra, and a number of other paintings, including animal scenes, a large tondo of the Adoration of the Magi, and portraits. 

A technical analysis has revealed that the medium is egg tempera with walnut oil and linseed oil on poplar. 


Domenico Veneziano 

Domenico Veneziano (c. 1410-1461), as his name dis- 
closes, came from Venice. His artistic origins and the dates 
of many of his works are as uncertain as the date of his 
birth. One of his earliest known works, a large tondo of 
the Adoration of the Magi (fig. 11.7), reveals that 
Domenico knew well the works of Masaccio and Fra 
Angelico. Like their works, the painting sets a many- 
figured composition within a naturalistic setting, the forms 
projected in space and light. The heads and headgear, the 
masses of curled hair, the stockinged legs, and the velvet, 
brocade, and fur sleeves are all painted flawlessly, and they 
overlap and diminish as they recede into the distance. 
Domenico’s landscape background, however, reveals his 
northern origins, for it is reminiscent of the shores and 
sub-Alpine surroundings of Lake Garda in northern Italy, 
with sailboats, castles, a road, travelers, and even a corpse 
swinging on a roadside gibbet. Familiarity with Netherlan- 
dish works may have prompted such attention to nature 


and the details of daily life. The tondo shape itself, an 
innovation rapidly being taken up by Quattrocento artists, 
poses particular compositional challenges that Domenico 
solves by the insistent horizontal of his composition (see 
figs. 13.21, 16.39). The elegant costumes would appar- 
ently have been illegal in Florence because of sumptuary 
laws, but that did not prevent the Florentines from enjoy- 
ing their representation. To add a touch of the exotic, 
Domenico endowed two of his figures with the towering 
hats of Greek courtiers and others with costumes bearing 
French and Italian mottoes inscribed in Gothic letters. 

In 1438 (see p. 224), Domenico wrote from Perugia, 
where he was painting frescoes, to the twenty-two-year-old 
Piero the Gouty, son and heir of Cosimo de’ Medici: “I 
have hope in God to be able to show you marvelous 
things.” Perhaps this tondo was one of them, since it was 
in the Medici Palace in 1492. The mottoes are Medicean, 
and the standing figure to the right of the second magus is 
probably a portrait of Piero de 5 Medici; the sumptuous 
textiles would have appealed to Piero’s taste for luxurious 


FLORENTINE PAINTING AT MID-CENTURY • 2 6 J 




11.7. DOMENICO VENEZIANO. Adoration of the Nlagi. c. 1439—41. Panel, diameter 33" (84 cm). 
Gemaldegalerie, Berlin. Perhaps commissioned by Piero de’ Medici for the Medici Palace. 


fabrics. By 1439 Domenico was at work in Florence on a 
cycle of frescoes for the church of Sant’Egidio, now almost 
completely lost. He was assisted by the youthful Piero della 
Francesca, Alesso Baldovinetti, and others. 

Domenico’s principal surviving work, the St. Lucy altarpiece 
(fig. 11.8), was painted about 1445^17. While the altar- 
piece has the “modern” square shape that replaced Gothic 
polyptychs, there is a reference to the former in the Gothic 
arches that frame the enthroned Virgin and Child flanked 
by saints Francis, John the Baptist, Zenobius, and Lucy. The 
panel glows with a kind of color so foreign to Florentine 


experience that it explains Vasari’s unexpected statement 
that Domenico’s altarpiece was painted in oil (technical 
examination has revealed that it is not). The architecture of 
Domenico’s courtyard — arches, spandrels, steps, and an 
elaborate pavement inlaid in rose, white, and green marbles, 
like the Florentine Campanile — is conceived in color, and 
all its shadows are lightened by reflections from adjacent 
surfaces. Veneziano shows his understanding of scientific 
perspective through his rendering of the complex floor. 

Some of the “marvelous things” that Domenico prom- 
ised in his letter are suggested by the softly colored shadows 


268 


THE QUATTROCENTO 





11.8. DOMENICO VENEZIANO. Madonna and Child with Sts. Francis, John the Baptist, Zenobius, and Lucy (St. Lucy altarpiece). 
c. 1445-47. Panel, 6 '10" x 7' (2.09 x 2.16 m). Uffizi Gallery, Florence. Commissioned for the high altar of Sta. Lucia de’ Magnoli, Florence, in a 
chapel that was the property of the Uzzano family. The altarpiece is signed by Domenico. The original frame is lost, and the predella scattered in 
several museums; here we offer a reconstruction that clarifies the relationship of the predella panels to the figures above: the Stigmatization of St. 
Francis (National Gallery of Art, Washington); St.John the Baptist in the Desert (see fig. 11.10); the Annunciation (see fig. 11.9); a Miracle of St. 
Zenobius (see fig. 11.11); and The Marty dom of St. Lucy (Gemaldegalerie, Berlin). 


FLORENTINE PAINTING AT MID-CENTURY * 2 69 





of the shell niches and the fabrics — the damask below the 
Virgin’s feet, the blue cloth of her cloak, the green velvet of 
the sable-trimmed mantle thrown over her chair, the vest- 
ments of St. Zenobius, the rose-colored cloak of St. Lucy, 
and the pearls that shine at the neckline of her tunic and 
that of the Virgin. In St. Zenobius’s miter, Domenico has 
even distinguished between the dull tone of seed pearls 
in the embroidery and the luster of larger pearls. The solid 
haloes of earlier art are here transformed into disks 
of crystal rimmed with gold. The wrinkled faces of the 
male saints suggest that Domenico had studied the works 
of Donatello and Lorenzo Ghiberti, while the firm, 
muscular forms of St. John’s limbs follow Florentine 
practice, and the easy flow of the drapery folds is in 
harmony with passages in the Gates of Paradise (see figs. 
10.13-10.14). Yet these forms have been created less 
by the traditional Florentine means of drawing in line, 
followed by shading, than by the changing play of light 
on color. 

Nowhere is Domenico’s interest in color more apparent 
than in the figure of St. Lucy, who holds the palm of mar- 
tyrdom and the platter holding her eyes, which she plucked 
out and sent to a young man who had admired them exces- 
sively. (The Virgin rewarded her with a new pair.) Light 
was especially appropriate to Lucy, patron saint of vision, 
and Domenico’s light penetrates the shadows of her 
rosy cloak and gives three-dimensionality to its folds. This 


poised figure seems to typify the new aristocratic ideal of 
the Florentine upper middle class. St. Lucy’s swept-back 
blond hair, its design enhanced by the wispy locks that 
have escaped, brings out the pallor of the face and fore- 
head. The head is like one of Domenico’s giant pearls, so 
gently does the light glide across it and across the silken 
surface of the neck. 

The setting of the Annunciation (fig. 11.9), the altar- 
piece’s central predella, is a court of elegant forms that 
contrast with Mary’s rough bench and simple rush chair, 
which are almost identical with those still used in Italian 
farmhouses. The angel kneels while Mary crosses her 
hands upon her chest. We look through an arch into the 
closed garden, symbol of Mary’s virginity, as already seen 
in the Annunciations of Fra Angelico (see figs. 9.1, 9.7). 
The garden ends in a porta clausa , a gateway studded with 
nails and secured with a huge wooden bolt. The rose beds 
and the vine clambering over the trellis are painted with 
delicate touches that recall the foliage in Masaccio’s fres- 
coes (see fig. 8.16). Here Domenico uses a single touch of 
the brush to represent a ray of sunlight reflected from a 
leaf or petal. 

An even more intense rendering of sunlight can be seen 
in the predella representing the youthful St. John the 
Baptist in the Desert (fig. 11.10). In the Trecento, St. John 
had been shown trudging cheerfully off, cross-staff in 
hand. Domenico’s picture depicts the boy dropping his 



11.9. DOMENICO VENEZIANO. Annunciation, from the predella of the St. Lucy altarpiece (see fig. 11.8). c. 1445-47. Panel, 10 5 /s x 2 IV 4 " 
(27 x 54 cm). Fitz william Museum, Cambridge, England. 


27O 


THE QUATTROCENTO 



11.10. DOMENICO VENEZIANO. St.John tbeBaptistin the 
Desert, from the predella of the St. Lucy altarpiece (see fig. 11.8). 
c. 1445-47. Panel, 1 1 3 /i 6 x 12 V 2 " (28.4 x 31.8 cm). National Gallery 
of Art, Washington, (Kress Collection). The faux-marble frame 
around the scene is original. 


clothes on the rocky ground as he prepares to put on the 
camePs skin he will wear in the wilderness. The almost 
Greek beauty of the nude figure is in keeping with Ghib- 
erti’s Isaac of the competition relief for the North Doors 
of the Florentine Baptistery and the Christ of the Flagella- 
tion (see figs. 7.3, 7.6). The fierce sunlight changes the 
facets of the surging forms of the mountains to blue-white 
and yellow-white. The same light reflects from the 
rounded forms of the boy’s body and dwells on every 
pearly stone. 

Three other predella panels, illustrated to scale in figure 
11.8, represent scenes from the legends of the other saints. 
To the far left, the Stigmatization of St. Francis is set in a 
landscape similar to that of the St. John the Baptist pre- 
della panel. Here, however, the mountains are more varied 
in color, perhaps to suggest the exotic landscape of La 
Verna where the stigmatization took place. In contrast, the 
miracle being performed by the Florentine bishop 
St. Zenobius (fig. 11.11) is set in a crowded cityscape with 
upper rooms supported on struts like those we have 
already seen in a fresco by Masaccio (see fig 8.15). The 
dramatic responses of the onlookers in this scene contrast 
sharply with the calm serenity conveyed by the standing 
saints above and the meditative interpretation of the adja- 
cent Annunciation. In the final predella, the Martyrdom of 
St. Lucy is silhouetted against a simple stone wall. 



11.11. DOMENICO VENEZIANO . A Miracle of St. Zenobius, 
from the predella of the St. Lucy altarpiece (see fig. 11.8). 
c. 1445-47. Panel, IIV 4 x 12 3 /4" (28.6 x 32.5 cm). Fitzwilliam 
Museum, Cambridge, England. 


Andrea del Castagno 

One of Domenico’s contemporaries in Florence was 
Andrea del Castagno (1417/19-57). According to Vasari, 
Castagno was a coarse and violent man who became so 
jealous of Domenico’s skill at painting in oil in the Venet- 
ian manner (though oil was not generally adopted in 
Venice until about 1475) that he murdered him. Vasari 
added that no one would have known who killed 
Domenico if Castagno had not confessed on his deathbed. 
This story blackened Castagno’s reputation until the nine- 
teenth-century archivist Gaetano Milanesi discovered that 
Castagno died four years before his supposed victim. Yet 
with that much smoke there is usually some flame, and 
Castagno may well have been a difficult individual. Cer- 
tainly, the human dilemma he presents in his works con- 
trasts vividly with the serene world painted by Domenico. 
Andrea came from a village called Castagno (“Chestnut 
Tree”) high in the Apennines, yet nature seldom appears in 
his work. His interest is in the human figure and human 
character; the types he prefers seem to be based on the 
peasants and mountaineers of his Tuscan birthplace. 
Castagno is one of the first Renaissance artists to demon- 
strate an interest in capturing movement. 

Castagno’s surviving masterpiece is his huge fresco of 
the Last Supper and Scenes of the Passion for the convent 


FLORENTINE PAINTING AT MID-CENTURY * 27 I 



of Sant’Apollonia (figs. 11.1, 11.12). Because the nuns 
were under clausura (they could have no visitors and the 
convent was closed to all outsiders), the frescoes probably 
became inaccessible to Castagno’s contemporaries as soon 
as they were finished, and they escaped notice until the 
kingdom of Italy expropriated the monasteries in the late 
nineteenth century. As we saw earlier in Taddeo Gaddi’s 
fresco (see fig. 3.31), the Last Supper was often chosen for 
representation in refectories. The theme served to remind 


the members of the community daily that Christ’s sacrifi- 
cial self-perpetuation in the form of bread and wine at the 
Mass was established at a ritual meal. 

In accordance with the Tuscan visual tradition, Judas is 
seated on our side of the table. He does not, however, dip 
his hand into the dish with Christ, which was how most 
earlier artists, including Taddeo Gaddi, had represented 
the scene. Their source was either St. Matthew or St. 
Mark, but Castagno followed the account written by 



11.12. ANDREA DEL CASTAGNO. Detail of the Last Supper ( see fig. 11.1). 


272 


THE QUATTROCENTO 


St. John, which includes Christ’s announcement that the 
betrayer would be the apostle to whom he gave a piece of 
bread dipped in wine (13:26). Castagno contrasts Christ’s 
hand blessing the bread and wine with that of Judas 
already holding the bread given him by Christ. Ludolph of 
Saxony, a fourteenth-century theologian, wrote that at 
this moment in St. John’s Gospel the Devil entered Judas. 
Indeed, Castagno’s betrayer has assumed a diabolical 
aspect, with hooked nose, jutting beard, and hornlike ears. 
One story held that St. John fell asleep at the supper with 
his head on Christ’s chest so that he could understand the 
secrets held in Christ’s heart, which seems to be 
how Castagno represents him. Christ gazes down toward 
him while Peter looks at Christ with alarm, as if with 
foreknowledge of his denial of Christ within the next 
few hours. 

Christ’s revelation that he would be betrayed, Ludolph 
wrote, entered the heart of each apostle like a knife and 
caused each to reflect on his inner life and eventual mar- 
tyrdom. Here Andrew holds up a knife to the praying 
Bartholomew, who would eventually be flayed alive. Next 
to Peter, James, who would be beheaded, gazes fixedly at 
the glass of wine he holds to his lips, as the locks of his hair 
seem to start upward from his head. Thomas, who was to 
receive the Virgin’s golden belt as she ascended to heaven 
i see figs. 5.6, 7.16), looks sharply upward, in a daring 
attempt at foreshortening. Turning to one another and 
searching their individual souls, the apostles express their 
consternation at the disclosure. Castagno, doubtless under 
theological direction, visually unfolded the import of the 
Last Supper, the Betrayal, and the Eucharist for the nuns 
within a single image. 

Castagno set the scene in a paneled chamber that seems 
to be an independent construction, one story high and 
roofed with Tuscan tiles, with its front wall removed as if 
it were a stage set. This setting, open to the view of the 
nuns, is cut off from the rest of the world by high brick 
wails at either side. The room is on the ground floor, ignor- 
ing the biblical text, which states that the event took place 
in an “upper room.” Castagno’s illusionistic room is more 
complex than we first assume. At first it seems square 
because each side wall has the same number of marble 
panels as the back wall, but the benches suggest that this 
could not be the case. Counting the patterns in the frieze 
and the ceiling tiles does not help resolve the visual 
paradox, which adds to the intensity of the scene, as does 
the recession of the red and white pavement in front. The 
floor is painted as if it were just below our eye level, and 
at close range its receding blocks, so convincing from a 
distance, become a blur. The striking impression of three- 
dimensional reality is, surprisingly, deliberately inaccurate. 
Castagno did establish a consistent vanishing point for the 


ceiling directly below the hands of St. John, but the orthog- 
onals of the footrest do not recede to this point nor, for 
that matter, to any common vanishing point. The orthogo- 
nals of the frieze remain nearly parallel, and the depth of 
the individual ceiling panels is identical from front to back, 
with no diminution. 

There may have been a reason for such departures from 
Brunelleschi’s and Alberti’s rational perspective system on 
the part of an artist familiar with its practice and theory. If 
Castagno had used a consistent one-point perspective, he 
would have restricted the observer to a single point in the 
refectory; perhaps he intended instead that his illusion be 
valid to every nun in the room. He did his best, therefore, 
to achieve a visually and emotionally convincing reality by 
other means. One of these is the lighting, which seems to 
come from two windows substituted for marble panels on 
the left, the same side as the real windows of the refectory. 
This light emphasizes the broadly modeled features, sends 
reflected lights into shadows, and models the sharply 
defined figures and drapery. Strong light and vigorous 
contours establish a sense of pictorial three-dimensionality 
that seems to emulate sculptural prototypes at Orsan- 
michele or the Campanile. In contrast to Castagno’s immo- 
bile figures is the eruption of color in the painted marble 
panel behind Christ. The surge and flow of this veining 
reveals Castagno’s interest in the invention of abstract 
patterns that could strengthen his narrative interpretation. 

The dramas of betrayal, resignation, fear of death, 
crushing grief, and hope of salvation that seem to be going 
on within the souls of these apostles are revealed on 
their faces — old and bearded, young and strong, handsome 
or ugly, tormented or secure. Castagno has chosen to 
emphasize emotional experience, and in this, as well as in 
his emphasis on sharp detail, strong lighting effects, and 
realistic types, his art foreshadows that of Caravaggio (see 
fig. 20.58). 

Castagno’s Last Supper was painted in thirty-two 
sections, and perhaps within even fewer working days. He 
began the figures with Andrew, at the right of center, and 
worked toward the right, each day painting one figure. 
Then, in a single day, he painted Christ and the head and 
hands of Judas. In another day he painted John. He then 
worked even more rapidly, for James and Peter were 
painted in a single day, as were Thomas and Philip. Only 
after the tablecloth was painted did he insert the body 
of Judas. The harsh grandeur, astringent colors, and 
powerful spatial illusion make this fresco one of the most 
memorable of the many Quattrocento representations of 
this theme. 

A cycle of frescoes by Castagno of famous men and 
women offer a sharp contrast to the Last Supper in content 
and style. They were commissioned in 1448 to decorate the 


FLORENTINE PAINTING AT MID-CENTURY * 2 73 



11.13. ANDREA DEL CASTAGNO. The Famous Men and Women Cycle . c. 1448-49. Originally in the loggia of the Villa Carducci, Legnaia. 
Reconstruction by Lew Minter. Fresco, width of loggia, approximately 50' (15.5 m). Commissioned by Filippo Carducci. 1. Eve; 2. Madonna 
and Child (over the door; largely lost); 3. Adam (largely lost); 4. Pippo Spano (see fig. 11.14); 5. Farinata degli Uberti; 6. Niccold Acciaioli; 

7. Cumaean Sibyl (see fig. 11.15); 8. Queen Esther, 9. Queen Tomyris ; 10. Dante; 11. Petrarch; 12. Boccaccio (not shown in reconstruction). 


loggia of a villa outside Florence (fig. 11.13). Cycles of 
famous historical personages were a frequent decoration 
for Italian Quattrocento villas and palaces, although few 
survive; such figures were intended to awaken emotions 
ranging from civic pride to delight in the erudition of 
observer and patron. The nine figures from the long wall 
of the Villa Carducci have been detached, while frescoes of 
Adam and Eve and the Virgin and Child on one end wall 
remain in poor condition in situ. No one knows what 
might have gone on the other end wall. Our reconstruction 
gives some sense of the frescoes as they might have looked 
in the loggia originally. The unity of Castagno’s program 
is evident. The detached sections show three Florentine 
military leaders (Pippo Spano, Farinata degli Uberti, and 


Niccold Acciaioli), three legendary women (the Cumaean 
Sibyl, Queen Esther, and Queen Tomyris), and three Flo- 
rentine literary figures (Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio). 
The figures stand against varied backgrounds of simulated 
marble, granite, or porphyry. 

Pippo Spano (fig. 11.14), whose real name was Filippo 
Scolari, was a Florentine soldier of fortune in the service of 
the king of Hungary. As we have seen, Masolino accom- 
panied him to Hungary (see p. 207), and his will endowed 
the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Florence (see fig. 
6.20). Pippo died in Hungary shortly after Castagno’s 
birth, so it is unlikely that Castagno’s figure is a portrait 
unless the artist was supplied with a death mask or another 
likeness. In any case, it is a vivid image of a swashbuckling 


2 7 4 


THE QUATTROCENTO 




11.14, 11.15. ANDREA DEL CASTAGNO. Pippo Spano (left) and Cumaean Sibyl (right), from the Famous Men and Women Cycle (see fig. 
11.13). Frescoes, each 8' x 5'5" (2.5 x 1.54 m). Uffizi Gallery, Florence. In the figure of Pippo Spano , Castagno added blue shadows in fresco 
secco to the short tunic; these have peeled off, leaving the white plaster and causing an apparent reversal of lights and darks. 


condottiere standing with feet apart, grasping a huge 
sword, and glaring at potential enemies. The Cumaean 
Sibyl (fig. 11.15) is a tall, athletic, and elegant woman 
holding a book and pointing heavenward. Because her rev- 
elations were thought to predict the coming of Christ, she 
looks toward the Madonna and Child on the end wall. 

While Castagno’s figures here are strong and wiry like 
those in the Last Supper , a more diffused light now 
replaces the strong shadows and harsh modeling seen 
there. A system of delicately painted lines indicates details 
of garments and ornament, locks of hair, and even individ- 
ual hairs in the beard and eyelashes. The different style 
may have seemed appropriate for the intimacy of the villa 
setting. Here too the perspective could not possibly be 


unified; a consistent one-point perspective would have 
looked incorrect except from a single spot in the loggia. 
But Castagno made every effort to make his figures and 
scenes palpable. The feet, for example, overlap the ledges 
on which the figures stand and seem to project into the 
space of the room, while the folds of the hems of the gar- 
ments, seen from below, recede convincingly into depth. 

The shape of Castagno’s Triumph of David (fig. 11.16) 
derives from its function as a parade shield, presumably 
for ceremonial use in processions and other civic and 
familial festivities. In contrast to Donatello’s static figures 
of David (see figs. 7.11, 10.22), Castagno’s wiry youth 
runs, swinging his sling in one hand and extending his 
other to help guide the trajectory of the stone. Goliath’s 


FLORENTINE PAINTING AT MID-CENTURY 


2-75 





11.16. ANDREA DEL CASTAGNO. The Triumph of David, a 
parade shield . c. 1450-55. Tempera on leather on poplar, height 
45 1 /z" (1.155 m). National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. 
(Widener Collection). 

decapitated head lies at his feet. The flutter of his garments 
in the air and the tense muscles of his legs give a strong 
sense of arrested movement. This is one of the first figures 
of the Renaissance to be shown in action, and so impres- 
sive is its naturalism that it is a surprise to learn that the 
stance was probably suggested by an ancient Greek 
statue — part of a group representing Niobe and her dying 
children now in the Uffizi. The sculptors of the early 
decades of the Quattrocento had turned to classical 
antiquity for their philosopher-saints and for their rela- 
tively quiet male and female nudes. Castagno now finds 
inspiration in ancient art for a pose that demands the total 


resources of the body and an expression that conveys 
David’s fear of his gigantic enemy. Despite the patterned 
hair, stylized clouds, and still-Gothic landscape forms, 
Castagno’s interest in physical movement represents a 
giant step along the road later taken by Antonio del 
Pollaiuolo, Leonardo, Michelangelo, and, eventually, the 
artists of the Baroque era. At the same time, however, it is 
clear that he has not forgotten Donatello, whose works 
provided models for Goliath’s severed head. 

The Vision of St. Jerome (fig. 11.17) was frescoed above 
an altar at the Church of Santissima Annunziata, Florence. 
Jerome was often represented as a theologian working in a 


11.17. ANDREA DEL CASTAGNO. The Vision of St. Jerome, c. 1454-55. Fresco, 9' 9" x 5 TO" (3 x 1.8 m). It SS. Annunziata, Florence. 
Commissioned by Girolamo dei Corboli. 


276 • 


THE QUATTROCENTO 



FLORENTINE PAINTING AT MID-CENTURY 


277 



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11.18. ANDREA DEL CASTAGNO. Niccold da Tolentino. 
1455-56. Fresco transferred to canvas, 27'4" x 16'9" (8.3 x 5.1 m). 
Cathedral, Florence. Commissioned by the Opera del Duomo, 
Florence. 


Ghost in the form of a dove — are so sharply foreshortened 
that they seem about to glide right out of the picture. The 
seraphim that cover the lower part of Christ’s body were 
added a secco and have partially peeled away. Perhaps 
Castagno’s foreshortened Trinity offended the clergy or the 
patron, who then demanded this “correction.” Yet we still 
look down on the top of the crossbar, down on Christ’s 
head (crowned with the rope of flagellation, rather than 
with thorns), down even on his gold halo. The rope may 
have been included because the patron, Girolamo (Jerome) 
dei Corboli, belonged to a community of flagellants. One 
hardly knows whether to be more astonished by the tor- 
tured face of the saint, with its knotty features, by the 
intensity of his inner convulsion, or by the gloomy figure 
of God the Father. Blood runs from the gashes in Jerome’s 
chest, drips from the rock he holds, and oozes from the 
pierced side of Christ. 

Castagno’s equestrian Niccold da Tolentino (fig. 11.18) 
was commissioned as a pendant to Uccello’s Sir John 
Hawkwood ; it too was detached and is also now hung too 
low and with an inappropriate frame. Uccello had already 
painted Niccolo in the Battle of San Romano (see fig. 
11.5), and it is not clear why he was not chosen to paint 
the second simulated statue for the cathedral. In any case, 
a comparison between the two monuments is inevitable. 
The simple harmony of Uccello’s earlier image is gone; 
perhaps such qualities were no longer possible in the 
1450s. Characteristically for Castagno, the perspective 
scheme has no single point of view. Harsh contrasts 
between light and shadow throw into relief the simulated 
marble of the tomb, its giant balusters, inscriptions, and 
shell, and the nude youths who hold shields bearing the 
devices of Niccold and the Florentine Republic. The con- 
voluted shapes of the horse’s muscles, head, and tail and 
of the rider’s cloak produce an effect of movement utterly 
different from the static geometry of Uccello’s work. 
Castagno’s illusion of marble substitutes earth tones for 
the violet and green used by Uccello to simulate bronze. 

Castagno’s wife died in August 1457 in one of the recur- 
rent plagues and the artist himself died eleven days later. 
They were buried, apparently in a mass grave, at Santa 
Maria Nuova. 


study on his translation of the Scriptures (see fig. 15.34), 
but here Castagno represents him stripped to his under- 
garment and beating his breast with a rock. The setting — 
looking like any barren hill to the north of Florence — is 
meant to suggest the Egyptian desert. Jerome’s cardinal’s 
hat rests at his feet. Flanking him are St. Paola and her 
daughter St. Eustochium, two of his close followers. The 
Trinity above — the Father holding the Son, and the Holy 


Piero della Francesca 

The artist who seems to fulfill the Albertian ideal of absolute 
and perfect painting in nearly every respect is Piero 
della Francesca (c. 1415-1492). He was not a Florentine, 
and, except for occasional visits there, he lived in Borgo 
Sansepolcro, a Tuscan market town then still a possession 
of the papal states. Piero’s family owned a wholesale 
leather business, a dyeing establishment, houses, and farms. 


278 


* 


THE QUATTROCENTO 




11.19. PIERO DELLA FRANCESCA. Baptism of Christ. Late 1440s-50s. Panel, 66 x 45 3 /4 M (1.67 x 1.16 m). National 
Gallery, London. Commissioned by a member of the Graziani family and by the Opera of the Pieve of San Giovanni, Borgo 
Sansepolcro. This was the central panel of an altarpiece; the side panels and predella were painted later by the Sienese artist 
Matteo di Giovanni. 


FLORENTINE PAINTING AT MID-CENTURY 


2 7 9 


In the nineteenth century, Piero’s art was treated as an 
oddity, of interest only to a few scholars who found in it 
little merit and who saw the artist as standing apart from 
the mainstream of the Renaissance. Only a new apprecia- 
tion of form for form’s sake in the wake of the revolution- 
ary art of Cezanne and the Cubists led to a fuller 
understanding of Piero’s accomplishments. 

The first dated reference to Piero is in 1439, when he 
was a modestly paid assistant of Domenico Veneziano 
working on now-lost frescoes in Florence. In 1442 Piero 
became a member of the Priori (town council) of Borgo 
Sansepolcro, an office he retained for the rest of his life. 
This rustic town, set in the barren foothills of the Apen- 
nines, may have offered the atmosphere of dignity and 
calm so evident in Piero’s art. His stay in Florence helped 
him to develop the technical resources, the knowledge of 
perspective theory, and the particular form, light, and 
color evident in his work. He must have studied the paint- 
ings of Masaccio and, since he seems to have known the 
art of Castagno, he must have returned to Florence. He 
may have worked with Domenico again, at Loreto. But in 
the isolation of Borgo Sansepolcro, he engaged with a 
series of problems on the subject that seems to have con- 
cerned him most: the visual unity of the picture. 

In Piero’s Baptism of Christ (fig. 11.19), the beauty of 
the landscape setting reveals his command of the develop- 
ments in naturalism seen earlier in Florentine art; one is 
reminded of Fra Angelico’s Descent from the Cross (see fig. 
9.2). Christ stands in a glassy stream under a well-pruned 
tree in a Tuscan landscape; he is up to his ankles in water 
so clear we can see stones on the bottom. Holding a simple 
earthenware bowl, St. John steps from the bank to pour 
water over Christ’s head. The three angels recall the classi- 
cism and naturalism of the singing boys on Luca della 
Robbia’s Cantoria (see figs. 10.16-10.17). The mood of 
anticipation is in part the result of the stillness of the 
figures and the balance of the flanking profiles of the 
Baptist and the angel on the left. 

Piero developed a visual relationship between Christ’s legs 
and the cylindrical tree trunk; both seem equally rooted in 
the earth. In the same way, the foreshortened dove (symbol 
of the Holy Spirit) and the white clouds are so similar in 
shape that we have to look a second time to distinguish them. 
There is no representation of God the Father, not even the 
hand of God that is sometimes shown in this scene; appar- 
ently the blue sky will do. It might be said that Piero was 
a nature poet who saw revelations or relationships in 
simple things — the Son in a tree, the Holy Spirit in a cloud, 
the Father in the sky. Piero’s color is slightly bleached, 
similar to the color in his own countryside, where intense 
light will not permit bright colors to survive. This white 
glare models both the smooth forms of Christ’s torso, 


revealing his thighs through the translucent loincloth, and 
the figure of a man in the middle distance. As he pulls his 
garment over his head in preparation for baptism, the 
man’s arms are visible through the white linen. 

Beyond the second curve of the stream stand bearded 
figures wearing bright robes and towering headdresses. 
They and the terraced hill behind them are reflected in the 
water, which is as clear as it is bright. Between Christ’s hip 
and the tree trunk we are offered a glimpse of Sansepolcro, 
its towers touched by light, and of the straight road that 
runs toward the town of Anghiari, site of the famous battle 
later painted by Leonardo (see fig. 16.30). Piero has 
mastered Domenico Veneziano’s doctrine of light, using 
a single brushstroke to represent the sparkle of light on 
an object, and painting background details freely and 
without line. 

Piero’s Resurrection (fig. 11.20) was painted for the 
Town Hall of Borgo Sansepolcro and moved from an 
adjoining room to its present position in the early sixteenth 
century; the di sotto in sit (looking up from below) view- 
point of the enframing columns suggests that it was origi- 
nally painted rather high on the wall. The theme was 
appropriate because the tomb of Christ was the symbol 
of Sansepolcro (which means “Holy Sepulcher”) and 
appeared on its coat of arms. Piero condensed the scene to 
its essentials and represented the Resurrection not as a his- 
torical event — it is nowhere described in the Gospels — but 
as a timeless truth upon which one could meditate on any 
rocky hillside above Sansepolcro. 

Christ stands with one foot on the edge of the sarcoph- 
agus. One hand rests on his knee while the other grasps the 
banner of triumph. A cloak leaves his right side bare to 
reveal the spear wound. The classical torso is modeled by 
the dawn light coming from the left. Above his pillarlike 
throat, Christ’s face is firmly projected. The curving lips 
seem to have been carved in pale stone, and his compelling, 
wide-open eyes engage ours, as if challenging us to return 
his stare. In front of the tomb, the watchers sleep fitfully; 
according to Vasari, the second from the left is Piero’s self- 
portrait. The large eye sockets, broad cheekbones, square 
jaw, and firm chin recall those seen in Etruscan sculpture — 
features still visible in the inhabitants of Tuscan villages. 

Significantly, the trees on the left are barren while those 
on the right are in full leaf. On his way to Calvary, Christ 
had said, “If they do these things in a green tree, what 
shall be done in the dry?” (Luke 23:31), meaning, “If 
they do this to me while I am still alive, what will they 
do when I am dead?” Christ’s analogy between green and 
withered trees was also a reference to the Tree of the 
Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life, which, 
according to the account in Genesis, stood together in the 
Garden of Eden. 




280 


THE QUATTROCENTO 



11.20. PIERO DELLA FRANCESCA. Resurrection, c . 1458. Fresco, 7'5" x 6 ' 6 V 2 " (2.25 x2 m). Museo Civico (originally the Town Hall), 
Sansepolcro. Commissioned by the chief magistrates of Sansepolcro for their state chamber. 


FLORENTINE PAINTING AT MID-CENTURY 


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Left: 11.21. PIERO DELLA FRANCESCA. Fresco cycle of the Legend of the True Cross. 1450s; the cycle was begun in the late 1440s and 
completed by 1465; most of the paintings were probably executed in the early to mid- 145 Os. S. Francesco, Arezzo. The commission, from 
members of the Bacci family, had originally been given to one of the last surviving painters in the Gothic tradition, Bicci di Lorenzo, but he left 
Arezzo around 1447 after completing the Four Evangelists in the vault and the Last Judgment on the triumphal arch. The thirteenth-century 
Crucifix with St Francis was only recently hung over the high altar of the church. 



Above : 11.22. Iconographic diagram of the program of Piero della Francesca’s Legend of the True Cross frescoes at the S. Francesco, Arezzo. 
Diagram by Sarah Cameron Loyd. 


The Resurrection contains evidence of Piero’s slow tech- 
nical procedures. Unlike Castagno, he needed a working 
day for each face and a day for the torso, neck, and right 
arm of Christ. He seems to have spent more than a decade 
on his only major fresco cycle, at San Francesco in Arezzo 
(figs. 11.21-11.22). Piero often applied wet cloths to the 
plaster at night so that he could work two days on a single 
section. A study of the giornate in the chancel at San 
Francesco indicates that the actual painting could have 


been completed within two years. The preliminary calcula- 
tions, working drawings, and cartoons may have required 
more time than the actual painting. Piero had at least two 
assistants, but the designs are all his own and he also 
painted all the principal figures. Exactly why the cycle 
took so many years to finish is uncertain. 

The subject, the Legend of the True Cross, is a medieval 
fabrication of fantastic complexity. Piero was certainly 
familiar with Agnolo Gaddi’s cycle on the same theme at 


Z 8 3 


FLORENTINE PAINTING AT MID-CENTURY * 


Santa Croce in Florence (see figs. 3.19, 5.11). The tale 
begins with the final illness of Adam, who, an angel tells 
his son Seth, can be cured only by a branch from the Tree 
of the Knowledge of Good and Evil from which Eve took 
the apple. Seth returns from Eden to find Adam already 
dead, but the branch is planted on his grave, where it takes 
root and flourishes. Later, King Solomon desires to use a 
beam from this tree in the construction of his palace, but it 
proves too large and is instead placed bridging a brook. 
The queen of Sheba, gifted with prophecy, discovers it on 
her trip to Solomon’s court and recognizes that it will serve 
to produce a cross on which the greatest of kings will hang. 
Kneeling, she worships it before proceeding onward to tell 
King Solomon, who has it buried deep in the earth. 

The Crucifixion was not represented by Piero, appar- 
ently because it was commemorated in the Mass celebrated 
at the altar in the chapel. Piero’s depiction shifts to the 
period after the Crucifixion, to the struggle between the 
rival emperors Constantine and Maxentius. An angel 
appears to Constantine in a dream, saying, “In this sign 
thou shalt conquer.” Protected by his faith in the cross, 
Constantine vanquishes Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge. 
Helena, Constantine’s mother, sets out to find the True 
Cross, which — along with those of the two thieves — was 
buried after the Crucifixion. The person who knows the 
location reveals it only after he has been lowered into a 
dry well and starved. When the three crosses are dug up, 


they show no external differences and the True Cross 
cannot be identified. Luckily a funeral procession is 
passing by, and when the crosses are held over the corpse, 
only the True Cross revives him. Later, the True Cross falls 
into the hands of the Persian emperor Chosroes, who 
attaches it to his throne, but the Byzantine emperor Hera- 
clius defeats Chosroes in battle and brings the cross in 
triumph back to Jerusalem. 

Piero’s sense of order was equal to the challenges of this 
complex program, and he rearranged episodes to make 
analogous scenes face each other. For example, Piero 
paired on facing walls the scenes dominated by women 
(the queen of Sheba and the empress Helena; figs. 
11.23-11.24) and those of battles won by emperors (see 
figs. 11.25-11.26), while on either side of the window he 
placed visions of the cross (see figs. 11.27-11.28). As a 
result, the final cycle forms a visual harmony rather than a 
temporal sequence, although the order of the scenes has 
also been related to the demands of Franciscan liturgy. 

Piero divided the story of the queen of Sheba (fig. 11.23) 
into two episodes: at the left, the queen worships the wood 
of the cross; at the right she is received at Solomon’s 
palace. In the first episode horses are shown foreshortened 
from front and rear in the manner of Gentile da Fabriano 
and Masaccio (see figs. 8.2, 8.19). In the foreground the 
beam of the True Cross is placed across a brook that runs 
past the palace. The shadow of the kneeling queen that 



11.23. PIERO DELLA FRANCESCA. Discovery of the Wood of the True Cross and Meeting of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, from the 
Legend of the True Cross. 1450s. 11'8" x 24'6" (3.56 x 7.47 m). The second face from the left in the scene of the Meeting , staring directly at the 
spectator, is probably Piero's self-portrait. 


284 


THE QUATTROCENTO 



falls across the beam follows the direction of the light from 
the actual window of the chancel. Her garments and those 
of her ladies-in-waiting are relatively plain, while their hair 
is simply dressed and they wear few jewels. The dignity of 
these stately women is due not only to the carriage of their 
heads, the coolness of their gaze, and the authority of their 
gestures, but also to the simplicity of Piero’s forms and 
lines. The heads with their plucked foreheads and the long 
necks resemble perfect geometric forms, while the folds of 
the cloaks descend in grand parabolic curves. 

The second episode takes place in the classical architec- 
ture of Solomon’s palace, and here we must discuss the 
relation of Piero della Francesca to Leonbattista Alberti. 
The proportions of the composite order of Piero’s portico 
recall those of Alberti’s Malatesta Temple at Rimini (see 
fig. 10.4), where Piero had painted a frescoed portrait of 
Sigismondo Malatesta in Alberti’s temple in 1451. He 
may also have absorbed Alberti’s perspective doctrine in 
Florence, and many years later Piero wrote the first 
Renaissance treatise devoted exclusively to perspective 
see p. 293). 

Piero has set his vanishing point low, on a level with the 
eyes of the kneeling queen of the first episode; it is centered 
just outside the portico, so that some of the capitals are 
visible along the profile of the first column. Within the 
portico, we see the same queen and ladies, their heads 
drawn from the same cartoons but now reversed, a 


technique employed by Piero to achieve balance and regu- 
larity. A sumptuously dressed Solomon, whose gold-bro- 
caded ceremonial robe was painted a secco and has for the 
most part peeled away, receives them. 

In the companion piece on the opposite wall (fig. 11.24), 
there are again two episodes: at the left is the Invention of 
the True Cross (as the cross’s discovery is generally enti- 
tled), in which Empress Helena — her face line for line the 
same as that of the queen of Sheba — directs the excavation 
of the crosses. This takes place outside the gates of 
Jerusalem, which is recognizable as a portrait of Arezzo; 
the cathedral can be distinguished, and — at the extreme 
right — the side of San Francesco itself. 

The Recognition of the True Cross to the right is domi- 
nated by a remarkable design for a Renaissance church 
facade. What makes this surprising is that Piero could not 
have seen a single completed Renaissance church facade. 
Nonetheless, Alberti’s ideas are evident in Piero’s creation, 
which is divided into rectangular, circular, and semicircular 
areas, with the arches supported on piers. There is a 
dichotomy between the simplicity of the design and the 
veined marbles that form the ornamentation. Piero is also 
aware of the distinctions between historical styles for, 
above a street bordered with Tuscan houses, are a 
Romanesque campanile , two medieval house-towers, and 
a dome culminating in a circular temple-lantern based on 
Brunelleschi’s lantern for his Sacristy at San Lorenzo in 



11.24. PIERO DELLA FRANCESCA. Invention of the True Cross and Recognition of the True Cross , from the Legend of the True Cross. 
1450s. ir8" x 24'6" (3.56 x 7.47 m). 


FLORENTINE PAINTING AT MID-CENTURY * 285 



11.25. PIERO DELLA FRANCESCA. Battle of Constantine and Maxentius^ from the Legend of the True Cross. 1450s. 
10'9" x25T" (3.29 x 7.64 m). 


Florence (see fig. 6.16). In front of these disparate yet 
harmonious architectural forms, Piero has placed his 
kneeling figures, while the cross is projected toward us 
above the brilliantly lit torso of the man brought back to 
life by its power. 

In Piero’s solemn battle scenes, the realities of conflict, 
defeat, and death are deeply felt. At the same time, he 
chose to contrast the battle scenes sharply: while Constan- 
tine defeated Maxentius through the cross alone (fig. 
11.25), Heraclius defeated Chosroes in hand-to-hand 
combat (fig. 11.26). In the damaged Battle of Constantine 
and Maxentius , Piero depicted the army of Constantine 
advancing from the left while at the right Maxentius and 
his troops are in rout. If Piero had painted the Tiber — 
where the battle took place — at its proper scale, he would 
have had to reduce the figures to miniature size; instead he 
inserted a symbolic river, painting it as the narrow upper 
Tiber that flows by Sansepolcro, mirroring trees and farm- 
houses and providing a haven for three white ducks. His 
horses approach the edge, stare at the water, and paw the 
air while — against the blue morning sky — Constantine 
holds a tiny white cross. Patterns are created by the cylin- 
drical forms of the horses’ legs and by the lances against 
the sky. While the banners of the defeated army, identified 
by dragons and Moors’ heads, are in disarray, the imperial 
eagle on its yellow banner floats triumphantly over 
Constantine’s army. 

Constantine wears a sharp-visored hat and bears the 
features of the Byzantine emperor John Palaeologus, the 


penultimate successor of Constantine, whom Piero must 
have seen in Florence in 1439. The emperor on his white 
horse is overlapped by a figure in armor so that we see only 
his head in profile and his outstretched hand. Piero painted 
armor as surfaces of polished steel that capture the 
morning light. 

For these battle scenes Piero chose a point of view level 
with the riders’ feet, so that we look slightly upward to the 
belly of the rearing horse at the left. The horse is fore- 
shortened and seems to look at us as his rider tries to 
control him. This device, coupled with the roundness of 
the modeling throughout, creates an illusion of depth that 
helps break up the procession of equestrian figures across 
the foreground. 

The Battle of Heraclius and Chosroes has little of the 
luminary magic of the Battle of Constantine and Maxen- 
tius , perhaps because it is situated on a wall that never 
receives direct light. Piero includes no landscape, concen- 
trating instead on the battle. He may have been guided in 
part by Roman battle sarcophagi, seen in Florence and 
Pisa, in which the compositional field is filled with inter- 
woven figures in conflict; the motif of the horse rearing 
over a fallen enemy is common in Roman sculpture. As 
mentioned above (see p. 280), one of the most celebrated 
military encounters of Piero’s day, the Battle of Anghiari, 
took place within sight of Borgo Sansepolcro in 1440. By 
that year Piero may have returned to his birthplace; in 
any case, he could hardly have avoided hearing eyewitness 
accounts of the struggle. 


286 


THE QUATTROCENTO 



11.26. PIERO DELLA FRANCESCA. Battle ofHeraclius and Chosroes, from the Legend of the True Cross. 1450s. 
10'9" x 24'6" {3.29 x 7.47 m). 


In his depiction of this episode Piero represented the 
grim mechanics of slaughter: there are no beautiful pat- 
terns, no lovely light, and the armor has little allure. The 
legs of horses and people fill the lower part of the compo- 
sition; above, masses of steel and flesh collide. There are 
incidents of brutality, as when a soldier near the throne 
jabs his dagger into the throat of another, or of pathos, as 
we watch the dying figure below the rearing horse. The 
dethroned monarch on the far right awaits the execu- 
tioner’s sword. Above him the True Cross is blasphe- 
mously incorporated into his throne. 

Some scholars have tried to show that the Annunciation 
(fig. 11.27), at the lower left of the chancel window, is 
really a vision of Empress Helena; others have claimed that 
the scene is out of place in the True Cross Legend and was 
inserted later. It can be argued, however, that certain 
aspects of the subject, as well as its relevance to the legend, 
are clarified by St. Antoninus. To the right is the open door 
of Mary’s bedchamber, complete with a bed decorated 
with complex intar sia; to the left is the porta clausa. 
Antoninus suggested that the cross was mystically identi- 
fied with the porta clausa , arguing that the porta clausa 
was the way to salvation and that when Christ said, 
“Narrow is the gate and straight the way that leads unto 
salvation,” he meant the cross. To Antoninus the cross was 
therefore already symbolically present at the Annuncia- 
tion. Perhaps Piero hints at this, for the picture seems to be 
based on a cruciform scheme. Instead of the customary lily, 
Gabriel holds a palm, symbol of eternal life. The figure of 


Mary seems to be illuminated by light from the real 
window of the chancel. In this simple composition, with 
its shades of rose, blue, and white in combination with the 
richness of the veined marble, Piero has expressed 
the mystery of Christianity as revealed by the miracle 
of light. 

To the right of the window, the cross makes Constantine 
emperor, also through light. The Vision of Constantine 
(fig. 11.28) has its ancestry in the luminary revelations of 
Taddeo Gaddi and Gentile da Fabriano (see figs. 3.30, 8.3). 
Constantine’s tent fills the scene, and behind it stand 
others, two of which are touched by moonlight. The parted 
curtains show the emperor asleep in his bed, on the base of 
which sits a sleepy servant. A guard armed with a lance looks 
toward Constantine; another looks outward. An angel 
appears over the group, flying downward, his right shoul- 
der obscuring his head, and his extended right arm holding 
a tiny golden cross. This must be the source for the light that 
illuminates the figures and the tent and even shines through 
the feathers of the angel’s wing. No one seems to notice 
this miraculous radiance. As in the Annunciation , the cross 
is also implicit in the picture’s construction, and the shapes 
of the two scenes subtly correspond, pillar for pillar, hori- 
zontal for horizontal. Male and female, day and night, the 
cycle comes in these last two scenes to its fulfillment. 

Evidence suggests that Piero traveled widely. He seems 
to have worked in Ferrara at the court of the Este dukes, 
and he certainly left a mark on the Ferrarese school. In 
1459 he painted a fresco (now lost) in the Vatican, and he 


FLORENTINE PAINTING AT MID-CENTURY * 287 



11.27, 11.28. PIERO DELLA FRANCESCA. Annunciation (left) and Vision of Constantine (right), from the Legend of the True Cross. 1450s. 
10'9" x 6'4" (3.29 x 1.93 m) and 10'9" x6’3" (3.29 x 1.9 m). 


may have visited Rome earlier. But Piero’s strongest ties 
outside Sansepolcro were with the neighboring mountain 
principality of Urbino, then ruled by Count Federico da 
Montefeltro, who was elevated to duke in 1474. Urbino’s 
territory was not rich in resources and the count’s revenues 
were small, but he came from a family of long military 
traditions. His talents were valued by the popes, who made 
him captain general of the Roman Church and relied on 
his aid in warfare against rebels, including Sigismondo 
Malatesta. Young men came from as far away as England 
to Federico’s palace to study the art of war and to acquaint 
themselves with the principles of noble conduct and 
gentlemanly behavior. Under his rule, Urbino became less 
a second Sparta, as might have been expected, than a tiny 


Athens. Federico was a scholar and bibliophile who 
surrounded himself with humanists, philosophers, poets, 
and artists, and under his successors the cultural pre- 
eminence of Urbino lasted well into the seventeenth 
century. Federico’s palace, a brilliant example of Renais- 
sance architecture (see fig. 14.29), contained many impor- 
tant works of art. 

Piero’s Flagellation of Christ (fig. 11.29) is now in 
Urbino but there is no evidence that it was painted for Fed- 
erico or any other citizen of the city. The original meaning 
and function of this compelling painting remain mysteri- 
ous; more than thirty different interpretations have been 
published, but none has been accepted by a large number 
of scholars. 




288 


THE QUATTROCENTO 




The setting is the portico of Pontius Pilate’s palace in 
Jerusalem, and Piero seems to have based details of his 
setting on descriptions of the palace and surrounding 
>tructures in Jerusalem. What has perplexed many 
observers is the placing of Christ and his tormentors at a 
distance, while three large figures who seem to have no 
involvement with what is going on in the other half of the 
picture dominate the foreground. Crucial is the vanished 
inscription “Convenerunt in unum” (“They came together as 
One”), which was recorded in the early nineteenth century 
as being near the group of three figures or on the frame. 
The words appear in Psalm 2:2 and are quoted in a slight 
variation in Acts 4:26: “The kings of the earth stood up, 
and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and 
against his Christ.” In fifteenth-century breviaries, where 
this verse is one of the Antiphons read on Good Friday, it 
' followed by a passage from Acts 4:27 that refers to the 


trial of Jesus and names both Fferod and Pilate. It has often 
been suggested that Piero’s picture refers allegorically to 
the capture of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453 or, if 
the painting is slightly earlier, to the threat of that capture 
in the years preceding the city’s fall. The capture of Con- 
stantinople, a city founded more than a millennium earlier 
by the Roman emperor who had first allowed the free 
practice of Christianity, was seen as a great blow to the 
Church; because theologians often referred to the Church 
as the mystical body of Christ, the loss of Constantinople 
could easily be symbolized by the Flagellation. 

An old tradition in Urbino identified the youthful, bare- 
foot figure in the group on the right, clothed only in a plain 
red garment, as Duke Oddantonio, Federico’s half-brother, 
who wars murdered in his nightshirt. The figure has also 
been identified as a wingless angels The figure at the right 
has the red mantle of a nobleman thrown over his right 



1 1.29. PIERO DELLA FRANCESCA. F lagellation of Christ. 1450s(?}. Panel, 23 V 4 x 32" {60 x 80 cm). Galleria Nazionale dell e Marche, 
Palazzo Ducale, Urbino. 


FLORENTINE PAINTING AT MID-CENTURY * 289 


shoulder and may be a portrait of Duke Guidantonio, 
father of Federico and Oddantonio; other interpretations 
identify him as Francesco Sforza or Ludovico II Gonzaga. 
Pilate, who observes the torture from his throne, is thought 
to be a portrait of Sultan Mehmet II, who conquered Con- 
stantinople (see fig. 15.33). In all likelihood, then, the 
remaining man in the foreground is a portrait as well. 
Bearded in the Byzantine fashion, he also wears a Byzan- 
tine hat. He gazes earnestly outward, and his mouth is 
open in speech as he gestures to his two companions. We 
are led to conclude that both the suffering of Christ, placed 
as deep in space as the Flagellation is remote in time, and 
the contemporary events it symbolizes are the subject of his 
discourse. Perhaps the speaker was a Greek scholar at the 
court of Urbino who is here expounding the meaning of 
the Flagellation in a contemporary context. 

Deep in the portico Christ stands calmly, awaiting the 
blows about to fall on him from men in Turkish dress. He 
is bound to a column surmounted by a golden sculpture of 
a nude man, which has been identified as an allegorical 
figure representing the sun, one of the principal monu- 
ments of Constantinople; if this identification is correct, its 
presence would also suggest the idolatry of those who are 
persecuting Christ. In its left hand the figure holds what 
seems to be a colossal pearl. This unexpected and unex- 
plained form seems to be providing the light illuminating 
the ceiling above Christ. If Federico was the patron, the 
picture may have been intended to embody his desire to 
serve as captain general of the forces of the Church in lib- 
erating the Holy Land and Constantinople, the holy city of 
the East, and to earn the ducal mantle of his predecessors. 

The architectural setting has been constructed with such 
accuracy that modern scholars have been able to play Piero’s 
perspective backward, so to speak, and reconstruct the 
ground plan of the marble floor. Not surprisingly, this 
exercise has demonstrated that Piero organized his spatial 
illusion using precise mathematical principles. The orthog- 
onals are projected from divisions in the base line, as 
Alberti suggested, but Piero has intentionally placed the 
point of view slightly below the figures’ hips rather than at 
eye level, as Alberti recommended. As a consequence, the 
foreground figures loom grandly and their dialogue becomes 
more important. The architectural details have been artic- 
ulated with even greater refinement than those in the 
frescoes at Arezzo. The steps visible behind Pilate surely 
represent the staircase used by Christ in Pilate’s palace; 
what was believed to be this staircase was later brought to 
Rome for veneration, where it is known as the Scala Santa. 

Both outside and inside the portico, Piero’s sunlight 
reflects from the snowy marbles, penetrates the deep-toned 
slabs of onyx and porphyry, and creates tones of blue and 
rose, red and gold, that suffuse the whites in the indirect 


illumination of the shelter. Lavenders and blues make up 
the shadows in the white garments of the turbaned man 
who stands with his back to us. All in all, the interlocking 
web of form, space, light, and color represents Piero’s most 
nearly perfect single achievement. If the Albertian ideal of 
“absolute and perfect painting” could be embodied in a 
single picture, this would be an appropriate candidate. 
Piero signed the panel conspicuously, but why he chose the 
lowest step of Pilate’s throne for the signature is uncertain. 
The enigma of this unusual painting, with its combination 
of subordinate narrative scene and foreground dialogue, 
will undoubtedly continue to perplex scholars. 

In July 1472, Federico’s wife Battista Sforza, who had 
governed Urbino capably during his frequent absences, 
died in her twenty-sixth year, six months after the birth of 
her ninth child and first son, Federico’s long-expected heir, 
Guidobaldo. Federico stopped all work on his palace and 
began construction of the church of San Bernardino across 
the valley from Urbino, a structure that is visible in the 
background of Raphael’s Madonna (see fig. 16.48). For this 
church he commissioned Piero to paint a Madonna and 
Child with Saints (fig. 11.30). The Albertian setting is bril- 
liantly projected; the picture was probably intended to have 
a marble frame with matching architectural membering. 
On the right kneels Federico, wearing a suit of armor from 
which he has removed helmet and gauntlets, and behind him 
stands his patron saint, John the Evangelist, but the place 
before St. John the Baptist on the left, where Battista Sforza 
should be kneeling, is evocatively vacant. The rose and 
gold brocade of the Virgin’s tunic is repeated in Federico’s 
cape, and her blue mantle is decorated with pearls painted 
with almost Flemish detail. From the shell of the apse, half 
in shadow and half in light, hangs an egg suspended by a 
silver cord. Throughout the picture, stillness reigns. 

So exact is Piero’s perspective that the size of the egg can 
be measured, revealing that it is an ostrich egg. Such eggs 
often hung over altars dedicated to the Virgin — one still 
hangs in the Baptistery of Florence, and others appear in 
works by Giovanni Bellini and Andrea Mantegna (see figs. 
15.1, 15.19) — for it was believed that the ostrich let her 
egg hatch in the sunlight without brooding it herself and 
thus, following medieval logic, the ostrich egg became a 
symbol of the Virgin Birth. It was also believed that the 
ostrich subsisted on a diet of nails, nuts, bolts, screws, and 
other hardware appropriate for a soldier, and it therefore 
appeared on Federico’s coat of arms. Finally, the ostrich 
was an absent mother, and therefore a symbol of the 
deceased Battista. 

The backs of Piero’s portraits of Federico and Battista 
(fig. 11.31) are painted with allegories of triumphs (fig. 
11.32) and humanist texts that extol their virtues; unfor- 
tunately no evidence survives to suggest how double-sided 


* 


290 


THE QUATTROCENTO 



11.30. PIERO DELLA FRANCESCA. Madonna and Child with Saints . Mid-1470s. Panel, 98 x 67" (2.48 x 1.7 m). Brera Gallery, Milan. 
Commissioned by Federico da Montefeltro for S. Bernardino, Urbino. 


portraits such as these might have been displayed (the 
current frame is not the original). The ducal mantle worn 
by Federico in the triumph scene seems to date the panels 
after September 1474, when he was elevated to his long- 
desired rank (he does not wear the mantle in the Madonna 
and Child with Saints ), but by that date Battista had been 
dead for more than two years. Both Piero and Francesco 
Laurana, who created a bust of Battista at about this same 
time (see fig. 14.28), must have worked from the still- 
extant death mask. 

Motionless and with chins silhouetted against the sky 
above the horizon, the portrait heads create an effect of 
grandeur. Piero’s cool light plays full on the pale skin of 
Battista, but leaves that of Federico somewhat in shadow. 
Federico’s profile, disfigured by a sword blow in a tourna- 
ment that cost him his right eye and the bridge of his nose, 
was done using the same cartoon as the portrait in the 
Madonna. His olive skin is set against Battista’s pallor, his 


low-set red hat and tunic against her fashionably high fore- 
head, blonde hair, and jewels. Her pearls concentrate the 
radiance of the landscape and sky in a chain of lucent 
globes that deliberately contrast with the square, gray 
towers of the city beyond. Every element of luxury in the 
veil and jewels has, however, been subordinated to the 
sense of order that dominates both portraits and Piero’s 
work in general. 

The profiles of Federico and Battista are set against con- 
tinuous landscapes that surely refer to the extent of their 
realm. The city in Battista’s portrait is probably Gubbio, 
the second city of the Montefeltro domain, where Battista 
had taken her children during the construction of the 
palace in Urbino, where she gave birth to Guidobaldo, and 
where she died. Piero has set himself new problems in the 
landscapes. His representation of atmospheric perspective 
makes us aware of how the veil of atmosphere, which even 
in a Tuscan summer contains some moisture, softens the 


FLORENTINE PAINTING AT MID-CENTURY 


291 



11.31. PIERO DELLA FRANCESCA. Battista Sforza and Federico da Monte feltro. c. 1474. Panel, each I 8 V 2 x 13" (47 x 33 cm). Uffizi 
Gallery, Florence. Probably commissioned by Federico da Montefeltro. Federico would later be immortalized in Baldassare Castiglione’s 
Book of the Courtier { 1528). 


contours of forms as they recede. But these expanses, so 
strangely formed, may have a second, more important, 
purpose. Piero seems to have been in touch with the scien- 
tific currents of his time and may well have known the 
work of his Tuscan contemporary Paolo del Pozzo 
Toscaneili, who believed the world was round and 
made the map that started Columbus on his voyage. 
Perhaps Piero’s continuous plains were intended to reflect 
this proposition. Below the allegorical triumphs on the 
reverse are Latin inscriptions in Roman capitals. Federico’s 
refers to the “fame of his virtues” and asserts that he is the 
equal of the greatest leaders. Battista is mentioned in the 


past tense; her personal fame and leadership are never 
acknowledged, but she is “honored by the praise of the 
accomplishments of her great husband.” In the allegories, 
triumphal cars driven by putti approach each other, the car 
of Federico drawn by horses, that of Battista by unicorns, 
symbols of chastity and fidelity respectively. Fortune 
crowns Federico. On his car sit Justice, Prudence, Forti- 
tude, and Temperance. Standing by Battista, who is shown 
reading a prayerbook, are Chastity and Modesty, and 
seated on the front of her car are Charity and Faith. The 
colors of costumes and armor resonate against the land- 
scape, where a lake amid olive-colored hills and valleys 


292 


THE QUATTROCENTO 





11.32. PIERO DELLA FRANCESCA. Triumph of Federico da Montefeltro and Triumph of Battista Sforza (reverse of fig. 11.31). 


reflects the sky. The luminous atmosphere and soft colors 
are similar to effects found in the art of Jan van Eyck and 
Rogier van der Weyden, whose works were known in Italy 
at this time. It seems likely that some of Piero’s luminary 
effects were created using oil glazes in the Flemish style, a 
technique he used elsewhere. 

Piero lived on for nearly two decades more but seems to 
have moved away from painting in favor of his studies on 
perspective and mathematics . His principal theoretical 
works are preserved in his own handwriting and include 
De prospectiva pingendi (On Fainting in Perspective ), in 
which he treats a series of problems in perspective as 


propositions in Euclidean style, and De quinque 
corporibus regolaribus (On the Five Regular Bodies ), a 
study of geometry. According to Vasari, the aged Piero was 
blind, and in the mid-sixteenth century a man still lived 
who claimed that, as a boy, he had led Piero about Borgo 
Sansepolcro by the hand. This story’s validity has been 
doubted, but it may well contain more than a grain of 
truth even though in 1490, two years before his death, 
Piero still wrote in a clear and beautiful hand. Writing with 
the aid of a magnifying glass might have been possible for 
an artist who could not see well enough to paint panels 
and frescoes. 


FLORENTINE PAINTING AT MID-CENTURY 


1 9 3 





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ART IN 


D uring the first half of the Quattrocento, 
there were variations of manner, taste, 
and content, but no basic stylistic con- 
flicts among the revolutionary Floren- 
tine artists . We might imagine these 
architects, sculptors, and painters as a band of hardy con- 
spirators — let us say the heroic artists of Nanni di Banco’s 
Four Crowned Martyrs (see fig. 7.15) — united against the 
entrenched Gothic style. By the 1430s the outcome of the 
struggle was no longer in doubt. The major commissions 
were awarded to the innovators, and artists who adhered 
to the Gothic style were forced to seek commissions in 
small towns or such still-Gothic centers as Milan or 
Venice. By the middle of the Quattrocento in Florence, fur- 
niture, textiles, metalwork, and ceramics had all been 
transformed by Renaissance taste. Florentine bottegbe 
turned out birth salvers, painted chests, processional 
banners, shields, and bridles in the new style. Some also 
painted reliefs made by sculptors and produced outdoor 
tabernacles and altarpieces for village churches, using ideas 
and motifs borrowed from the revolutionary painters, 
sometimes even by means of stencils. 

In the 1450s, just when the Renaissance style was begin- 
ning to seem standard — much as Giotto’s had in the 1320s 
and 1330s — a rift appeared that widened within a few 
years. Soon there was no longer a single dominant style but 
several almost equally important styles that were in sharp 



FLORENCE UNDER 
THE MEDICI I 


contrast to each other and, in general, to the style practiced 
by the immediate followers of Masaccio, Donatello, and 
the other Early Renaissance innovators. For the next fifty 
years these contrasting and sometimes conflicting currents 
characterized Florentine art. 

By 1450, Brunelleschi, Masaccio, Nanni di Banco, and 
Jacopo della Quercia were all dead. After the installation 
of the Gates of Paradise in 1452, Ghiberti retired to his 
farm to live the life of a country squire. Fra Angelico was 
at work on a series of small panels that emphasized per- 
sonal religious and artistic introspection. Alberti, Fra 
Filippo Lippi, and Piero della Francesca were active 
outside Florence and so, until 1454, was Donatello. On his 
return, Donatello’s style, affected by the terrible events of 
the time, took a strange and, we might say, shocking turn. 

We have already seen that the plague of 1448 had serious 
consequences for Florence and Rome (see p. 236); more- 
over, it kept returning. The humanist pope Nicholas V, 
who had once been a university companion of Alberti, fled 
Rome to the safety of Fabriano, which papal soldiers then 
sealed, forbidding further access. In Florence, St. Antoninus 
organized house-to-house efforts to aid the sick, bring the 
last rites to the dying, and bury the dead. In 1453, other 
events increased the tension. Stefano Porcari, a Roman noble, 
led a conspiracy to assassinate the pope at High Mass on 
Easter Sunday. Halley’s Comet, considered a harbinger of 
disaster, hung over Europe that summer. Earthquakes shook 


Opposite: 12.1. BENOZZO GOZZOLI. Fresco cycle. 1459. The Medici Chapel, Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, Florence (see figs. 6.25, 12.24). 
Probably commissioned by Piero de’ Medici. The ceiling of the chapel is elaborately carved and gilded and the floor is inlaid with red, white, and 
green marbles. In the fifteenth century the chapel was described by Filarete as “most nobly painted by the hand of a good and excellent Florentine 
master named Benozzo.” 


ART IN FLORENCE UNDER THE MEDICI I * 2 95 


central Italy, especially Florence, many of whose inhabitants 
slept outdoors for a month. And the most frightening piece 
of news hit Western Europe when the last citadel of the 
Greek Orthodox Church, Constantinople, fell to the Turks. 

In time Florence recovered, and in 1454 the Peace of 
Lodi put an end to most armed conflict in northern Italy 
and brought the illusion of restored tranquillity. But some- 
thing seems to have happened to the Florentines. On the 
surface, the government of Cosimo de’ Medici, although it 
suffered serious challenges, continued to work well 
enough. The procedure for choosing those who held public 
office in Florence was simple: names of citizens were 
drawn randomly from leather purses. However, Cosimo 
and his sons controlled the system from behind the scenes 
by ensuring that only the names of citizens approved by 
the Medici party were placed in the purses. Cosimo also 
tried to guarantee that his chief enemies, or individuals of 
whom he disapproved for one reason or another, were so 
heavily taxed that they fled Florence; one victim of this 
practice was the humanist Giannozzo Manetti. 

Under such circumstances it might be assumed that the 
Medici bank and allied commercial establishments would 
flourish, but the opposite was the case. Perhaps because 
Cosimo paid little attention to banking, perhaps as part of 
a Europe-wide decline in business in the second half of the 
fifteenth century, the Medici bank gradually closed its 
European branches, and the volume of its transactions 
declined precipitously. Yet the splendor of the Medici 
family, emulated by those who sought their favor, took 
little account of the weakening of its financial base. Flo- 
rentine architects, sculptors, painters, and artisans were 
kept busy designing, building, and decorating family 
palaces and the villas (often converted farmhouses) the 
Medici established in the countryside (see fig. 12.20). 

A Medici inventory made in 1492 reveals the objects 
and works of art they had collected over the course of the 
century, including sculptures by Donatello, gold objects for 
use in the liturgy, coins, cameos, gems, medals, and other 
pieces. The most highly valued were ancient gems, cameos, 
and vessels carved in stone. Among the most famous of 
these was a carved stone goblet, now known as the 
“Farnese Cup” (Tazza Farnese ; fig. 12.2), which Lorenzo 
acquired in 1471. To claim ownership of such vessels, 
Lorenzo had his initials carved into the surface. The addi- 
tion of the letters was difficult and could have damaged the 
ancient works, but putting the Medici stamp of ownership 
on these rare objects was apparently considered worth the 
risk. As Lorenzo’s brother-in-law, Bernardo Rucellai, 
wrote, “Witness the letters inscribed on the gems them- 
selves, displaying the name of Lorenzo, whose carving he 
charged to be done, for his own sake and that of his family, 
as a future memorial for posterity of his royal splendor.” 


Cosimo, an amateur architect in his own right, was suc- 
ceeded in 1464 by his sickly son, Piero the Gouty, whose 
taste for refinement and luxury was, it seems, rapidly sat- 
isfied by artists. Piero’s successor in 1469 was his son 
Lorenzo “the Magnificent.” At the time, magnificence was 
seen as a virtue because it implied liberal support — intel- 
lectual and financial — for one’s city and its institutions. 
This was certainly the case for Lorenzo de’ Medici. In 
addition, the term magnificence may also refer to the high 
level of culture that Lorenzo supported and in which he 
participated; one of the humanists of the time, Marsilio 
Ficino, even compared Lorenzo’s musical abilities to 
those of Apollo. With his pro-Medicean bias, Giorgio 
Vasari wrote later that this period was “a golden age for 
men of talent.” 



12.2. Carved Hellenistic goblet with an allegorical scene of the 
Ptolemaic dynasty, known today as the “Farnese cup” (Tazza 
Farnese). 1st century BCE. Sardonyx, diameter 7 7 /s" (20 cm). 

National Archeological Museum, Naples. 

Before it was owned by Lorenzo the Magnificent, this cameo and 820 
others were owned by Pietro Barbo, who later became Pope Paul II. 
The outside features a representation of the Gorgon’s Head. In the 
Medici inventory of 1492 this cup is valued at 10,000 florins, a 
hundred times the price of the altarpiece Antonio and Piero del 
Pollaiuolo painted for the Chapel of the Cardinal of Portugal, a 
copy of which is visible in fig. 12.13. 


296 




THE QUATTROCENTO 



12.3. GIOVANNI DI SER GIOVANNI (CALLED SCHEGGIA). 
Birth salver (Desco da Parto) with The Triumph of Fame. c. 1449. 
Tempera, silver, and gold on wood; overall, with engaged frame, 
diameter 36 V 2 " (92.7 cm); painted surface, diameter 24 5 /s" (62.5 
cm). Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The frame is original, 
and the reverse is decorated with Medici references (a diamond ring 
and the motto SEMPER [“always”]) and with the coats of arms of 
the Medici and Tornabuoni families. The patron is unknown, but 
this work was probably commissioned by Piero de’ Medici. 


Lorenzo’s importance for Florentine art and culture had, 
in fact, been predicted in a large tondo featuring The 
Triumph of Fame (fig. 12.3) painted to celebrate his birth. 
It was hanging near his bedroom when he died in the 
Medici Palace in 1492. This is only one of many examples 
of such two-sided tondi painted for Florentine families, 
although exactly how they were used is still uncertain. The 
theme chosen for Lorenzo’s tondo was derived from the 
Triumphs of Petrarch and Boccaccio’s The Vision of Love. 
Trumpets announce the arrival of Fame from the globe on 
which the allegorical figure stands, and knights arrive to 
honor her. She holds a sword and a figure of a cupid to 
indicate that fame can be accomplished through arms and 
love. The feathers on the frame are a reference to Lorenzo’s 
father, Piero the Gouty, and the reverse of the tondo fea- 
tures other references to the Medici and to the family of 
Lorenzo’s mother, Lucrezia Tornabuoni. 

The Medici control of governmental affairs in Florence 
did not go unchallenged. In 1478, Lorenzo and his brother 
Giuliano were attacked. The conspirators, encouraged by 


Pope Sixtus IV and members of the papal curia to over- 
throw the Medici, included members of the Pazzi family; as 
a result the attack became known as the Pazzi Conspiracy. 
The attackers struck during the most sacred moment of 
Sunday Mass in the Duomo, when Lorenzo and Giuliano 
were without bodyguards. Giuliano died, stabbed nineteen 
times, but Lorenzo, lightly wounded, escaped by fleeing 
into the sacristy and slamming Luca della Robbia’s bronze 
doors shut behind him (see figs. 10.18, 2.39). More than 
seventy of the perpetrators were captured and hanged from 
the windows of the Palazzo dei Priori and the Bargello. 
Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci were commissioned, 
perhaps by Lorenzo de’ Medici, to paint portraits of some 
of these men, including the archbishop of Pisa, on the exte- 
rior walls of the Florentine Customs House. These now- 
lost portraits showed the men hanging by the neck, with 
one conspirator shown hanging by one foot. The political 
message would surely have been obvious to any citizen 
passing in the street. Because of the papal court’s involve- 
ment, a war broke out between Florence and Rome. Peace 
negotiations were not concluded until 1480, and only after 
the Medici agreed to have Botticelli’s portrait of the 
hanging archbishop of Pisa removed. After the expulsion 
of the Medici from Florence in 1494, the other portraits 
were also removed. 

Giuliano’s death and Lorenzo’s survival are commemo- 
rated in a medal commissioned by the latter (figs. 
12.4-12.5). On the side honoring Giuliano, the attack is 
shown in front of the polygonal enclosure that surrounded 
the Duomo’s altar, emphasizing the sacrilegious nature and 
timing of the murder. Giuliano’s gigantic head soars over 
the scene; he is identified by name, and the phrase 
“LUCTUS PUBLICUS” (“Public Mourning”) below his 
profile identifies the appropriate public response to his 
murder. The phrase “SALUS PUBLICA” (“Public Safety”) 
appears below Lorenzo’s head, implying that Lorenzo’s sal- 
vation was crucial for the good of the city. 

Another commemoration of the event was a life-sized 
figure of Lorenzo with cloth garments and a wax head and 
hands. Commissioned by the Baroncelli family, it was set 
up in front of a miracle-working crucifix in their family 
church. Since a family member had been part of the 
conspiracy, the figure of Lorenzo was probably made to 
reassure the surviving Medici of the allegiance of the 
rest of the family. The figure wore the bloodstained gar- 
ments Lorenzo had been wearing that Sunday, which he 
donated for this commemoration. Many figures of this 
type were documented, but none survives. They represent 
one of many genres of Renaissance art for which we have 
no visual record. Such gaps remind us how limited our 
knowledge is of certain aspects of the visual culture of 
this period. 


ART IN FLORENCE UNDER THE MEDICI I • 2 97 





12.4, 12.5. BERTOLDO DI GIOVANNI, cast by ANDREA GUACIALOTI. Commemorative Medal of the Pazzi Conspiracy with the 
Portraits of Lorenzo ilMagnifico (obverse, left) and Giuliano de’ Medici (reverse, right; shown actual size). 1478. Bronze, diameter 2V2" 
(6.4 cm). Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of Anne D. Thomson, 1923. Commissioned by Lorenzo de’ Medici. 

Bertoldo di Giovanni, a pupil of Donatello, was a member of Lorenzo’s intimate circle. The many surviving copies of this medal indicate 
that it was widely circulated. 


Despite attempts to suppress it, the anti-Medicean party 
continued to grow during the last years of what should 
perhaps be known as Lorenzo’s reign. The flames of their 
anger and discontent were fanned by the sermons of Giro- 
lamo Savonarola, a Ferrarese monk who succeeded St. 
Antoninus and Fra Angelico as prior of the monastery of 
San Marco. After Lorenzo’s death in 1492, his son Piero, 
nicknamed “the Unlucky,” failed to maintain the family’s 
control of the city. In 1494 Piero and his brothers — Cardi- 
nal Giovanni, later Pope Leo X, and Giuliano, later duke 
of Nemours — were forced to flee Florence. Some works of 
art from the Medici Palace were moved to the Palazzo 
dei Priori, and the rest of the contents were sold at auction. 
It is small wonder that the humanistic precepts so impor- 
tant earlier — intellectualism, order, harmony — had lost 
their relevance. 

Donatello after 1453 

The date, original location, and patronage of Donatello’s 
harrowing figure of The Penitent Magdalen (fig. 12.6) are 
all unknown. What is not in question is its strong expres- 
sive power. 

Represented as emaciated from thirty years of penitence 
in the wilderness and clothed only in her own long hair, 


this skeletal, even spectral, creation at first seems to be the 
antithesis of the Early Renaissance figures discussed previ- 
ously. But this is no return to the Middle Ages, and the new 
developments seen in the first Renaissance sculptures are 
also important for this figure. She stands, for example, in 
a beautiful and subtle contrapposto. This pose, in combi- 
nation with the refined bone structure of her facial features 
and the elegance of her long fingers and delicately formed 
ankles and feet, subtly reminds us that the Magdalen was 
traditionally known for her great beauty. It is clear that 
Donatello was here interested in developing character, 
just as he had been earlier in the Sts. Mark and George and 
the Zuccone (see figs. 7.12-7.13, 7.17). Of utmost impor- 
tance in this case is the Magdalen’s spiritual presence: her 
eyes are focused on an inner vision, and her mouth seems 
to be murmuring a prayer as she raises her hands and asks 
for forgiveness. 

A flood of the Arno in 1966 immersed the lower part of 
the statue in water, mud, and oil, necessitating a cleaning 
of the surface. A coat of brown paint, apparently added in 
the seventeenth century, was removed, disclosing that 
Donatello had originally painted the flesh to suggest the 
leathery tan produced by years of exposure to the sun, and 
had added streaks of gilded highlights to enhance the Mag- 
dalen’s traditionally red hair. Wooden figures were some- 


* 


298 


THE QUATTROCENTO 



12.6. DONATELLO. The Penitent Magdalen. 1430s-50s(?). Poplar 
wood with polychromy and gold, height 6'2" (1.88 m). Museo 
dell’ Opera del Duomo, Florence. 


times carried through the streets in processions, and the 
shimmering streaks of gold on her hair would have been 
dazzling when hit by the sun in the open air. Like the late 
works of Castagno (see fig. 11.16), those of Donatello 
admit us to an inner world of emotional stress, and to a 
merciless examination of the ravages of time and decay on 
the human body. 

Donatello’s bronze group representing Judith cutting off 
the head of the enemy general Holofernes (fig. 12.7) was 
probably commissioned for the garden of the Medici 
Palace, where it is first documented. After the expulsion of 
the Medici in 1494, it was placed in front of the Palazzo 
dei Priori to symbolize revolt against tyranny, but when it 
belonged to the Medici, the group had another meaning, 
indicated by an inscription that described how the head of 
Pride was cut off by the hand of Humility. Judith’s victory 
over Holofernes is told in the Book of Judith in the Old 
Testament Apocrypha, and her purity in the face of 
Holofernes’s flattery as he tried to seduce her was com- 
pared to the virginity of Mary. In a simile borrowed from 
the Song of Songs, Judith, like Mary, is described as a camp 
of armed steel, an army terrible with banners. 

Donatello’s Judith stands transfixed at the moment of 
victory. The text tells us that, with God’s assistance, this 
modest and devout woman beheaded Holofernes with two 
blows. In Donatello’s representation she has struck 
Holofernes once and cut deeply into his neck; the sword is 
raised for the second blow. Her left foot is planted on 
Holofernes’s right wrist, the right on his left thigh and, 
perhaps, his genitals. Judith’s halting movement is intensi- 
fied by the convulsed masses of cloth that cover her figure. 
In making the mold, Donatello apparently applied cloth 
soaked in a thin paste of clay to the clay figure, modeling 
it in place. Before the figure was cast in bronze some of the 
clay broke off, revealing the underlying cloth; Donatello 
chose not to repair the break. 

A set of reliefs by Donatello, finished in part by his stu- 
dents and now on two pulpits in San Lorenzo, are as star- 
tling as the Magdalen and Judith . The reliefs were not 
installed on the pulpits during Donatello’s lifetime, and 
their original purpose is uncertain. It has been proposed 
that they were originally intended for three separate mon- 
uments: a pulpit, an altar table, and a tomb for Cosimo de’ 
Medici. Their themes focus on the Passion of Christ and 
the martyrdom of St. Lawrence, patron saint of both the 
Medici and the church of San Lorenzo. 

The style of the reliefs is characterized by freedom, 
sketchiness, and even, at times, brutality. They are extraor- 
dinary, even for Donatello, and it could be argued that 
some of the expressive devices found here do not recur 
until the early twentieth century. The scenes on one of the 
pulpits are flanked by fluted Renaissance pilasters, but 


ART IN FLORENCE UNDER THE MEDICI I * 2 9 9 



12.7. DONATELLO. Jwd/Y/; and Holof ernes, c. 1446-60. Bronze, 
height 7'9" (2.36 m, including base). Palazzo Vecchio, Florence. 
Perhaps commissioned by a member of the Medici family for the 
garden of the Medici Palace. For a diagram of the casting of the 
upper portion of Judith, see fig. 1.19. 


figures overlap these frames, as if moving out into the 
space of the spectator. The Lamentation (fig. 12.8) takes 
place below the three crosses, which are placed diagonally 
to the picture plane and cut off by the upper frame. The 
thieves still hang on their crosses, but of the penitent thief 
we see only the knees, calves, and feet. A ladder leaning 
against the central cross recedes diagonally in the opposite 
direction. Christ, at the foot of the ladder, lies across the 
knees of his mother. She holds his head, assisted by a figure 
whose head is concealed behind that of Christ in a manner 
unexpected at this time. Mary’s face is recessed under her 
veil in such a way that the light coming through the high 
windows of the church shadows her expression; Donatello 
thus guarantees the grieving mother the dignity of privacy 
at this poignant moment. The Lamentation poses insoluble 
mysteries: four screaming, maenad-like women rush 
about, but which one is the Magdalen? Who is the semi- 
nude figure reclining in anguish at the lower right corner? 
Why are the soldiers on horseback nude? Such icono- 
graphic uncertainties, uncommon in Renaissance art, add 
to the fascination of the relief. 

The panels on the second pulpit are framed in an 
unprecedented illusionistic configuration: low brick walls 
roofed with tiles project outward, seeming to push the 
figures forward into the space of the church. Donatello’s 
unorthodox manner of interpreting and representing nar- 
rative is expressed in three scenes from Christ’s Passion: 
the Harrowing of Hell, the Resurrection, and the Ascen- 
sion (fig. 12.9). They were perhaps originally intended for 
a tomb, for which the iconography would be appropriate. 
In the scene where Christ breaks down the gates of hell to 
save those holy figures, such as Moses, who had died 
before him, the clamoring crowd almost overwhelms him. 
Note the hideous devil to the left and the skeletal figure of 
St. John the Baptist to the right. The Resurrection is the 
most surprising, for this is not a heroic interpretation of 
this triumphant scene: Christ is exhausted and seems 
barely able to pull himself upward. In traditional represen- 
tations (see fig. 11.19) Christ is centralized; here he is 
placed to the far left, as if to suggest that his resurrection 
is slow and difficult. In the subsequent Ascension , 
however, victory is his, for he rises dramatically upward 
past the frame of the scene, leaving the apostles and Virgin 
Mary kneeling below. The progression of the figure of 
Christ in these three scenes — from submersion in the 
crowd to stepping upward out of the tomb to the final 
levitation — is almost cinematic. 

In his last works, the aged sculptor — one of the founders 
of the Renaissance and a prime mover of every change in 
its evolution — abandoned the Renaissance notion of the 
ideal in order to emphasize drama and emotion and to 
involve the observer more fully in the experiences he was 


* 


3 0 0 


THE QUATTROCENTO 




12.8. DONATELLO. Lamentation . 1460s; completed by students of Donatello at a later date. Bronze, height approx. 40" (1 m). 1 S. Lorenzo, 
Florence. Commissioned by a member of the Medici family. 

In 1547 the Renaissance sculptor Baccio Bandinelli explained that the rough finish of these works was the result of the aging Donatello’s failing 
eyesight: “When he did the pulpits and doors of bronze in San Lorenzo for Cosimo il Vecchio, Donatello was so old that his eyesight no longer 
permitted him to judge them properly and to give them a beautiful finish; although their conception is good, Donatello never did coarser work.” 
Portraits of Cosimo de’ Medici and his wife Contessina have been identified in the two figures at the foot of the left-hand cross. 



12.9. DONATELLO. The Harrowing of Hell, the Resurrection, and the Ascension. 1460s. Bronze, height approx. 26" (66 cm), it S. Lorenzo, 
Florence. Commissioned by a member of the Medici family. 


ART IN FLORENCE UNDER THE MEDICI I * 3 OI 



representing. In the 1450s, both Donatello and Castagno 
possessed an insight into suffering that enabled them to 
explore the darker regions of human experience. 

Desiderio da Settignano 

Desiderio da Settignano (c. 1429/32-1464) chose a differ- 
ent direction and style. The son of a stone carver, he was 
born and trained in Settignano, a village of stonecutters. 
Few sculptors have understood the possibilities of marble 
with such intimacy as Desiderio. 

At Santa Croce Desiderio designed the tomb of the Flo- 
rentine humanist chancellor Carlo Marsuppini (fig. 12.10) 
as a pendant to Lionardo Bruni’s tomb by Bernardo 
Rossellino (see fig. 10.27), which lies directly opposite. 
The general layout of the monuments is similar and may 
even have been required by the commission, but the Mar- 
suppini tomb produces an impression of greater lightness 
and grace. The sarcophagus and bier are lower, the mold- 
ings narrower, and Desiderio has divided the paneling into 
four narrow slabs that accent verticality. He crowns his 
design with a tall lampstand and elegant moldings imitated 
from Roman art — elements in keeping with the classical 
style of the epitaph carved onto the elegant sarcophagus: 
“Stay and see the marbles that enshrine a great sage, one 
for whose mind there was not world enough. Carlo, the 
great glory of his age, knew all that nature, the heavens 
and human conduct have to tell. O Roman and Greek 
muses, now unloose your hair. Alas, the fame and splendor 
of your choir is dead.” At the base of the pilasters, putti 
hold shields displaying the Marsuppini arms (fig. 12.11). 
Rather than being rectangular, the sarcophagus has the 
curving forms of an ancient Roman funerary urn. An antique 
vine-scroll ornament animates its surfaces, and the open- 
work scrolls at the upper corners and winged shell at the 
base demonstrate Desiderio’s remarkable skill in carving. 

Desiderio ’s rilievo schiacciato of the Meeting of Christ 
and John the Baptist as Youths (fig. 12.12) can be related 
to a passage written by Giovanni Dominici in 1403 in his 
On the Education of Children : 

Have pictures of saintly children or young virgins in the 
home, in which your child, still in swaddling clothes, may 
take delight and thereby may be gladdened by acts and signs 
pleasing to childhood. And what I say of pictures applies also 
to statues. It is well to have the Virgin Mary with the Child 
in her arms, with a little bird or apple in His hand. There 
should be a good representation of Jesus suckling, sleeping in 
His Mother’s lap or standing courteously before Her while 
they look at each other. So let the child see himself mirrored 
in the Holy Baptist clothed in camel’s skin, a little child who 
enters the desert, plays with the birds, sucks the honeyed 


flowers and sleeps on the ground. It will not be amiss if he 
should see Jesus and the Baptist, Jesus and the boy Evange- 
list pictured together; [or] the slaughtered Innocents, so that 
he may learn the fear of weapons and of armed men. 



12.10. DESIDERIO DA SETTIGNANO. Tomb of Carlo 
Marsuppini. c. 1459. White and colored marbles, originally with 
gilding and green and red paint and fresco surround; 20' x H'9" 
(6.1 x 3.6 m). it Sta. Croce, Florence. While the patron would 
probably have been the Florentine state because of Marsuppini’s 
service as the city’s chancellor, evidence shows that the tomb was 
in part funded by the Martelli and Medici families. 


3 0 2 


THE QUATTROCENTO 



12.11. Putto, detail of fig. 12.10. 


Marsuppini tomb, these effects are exploited by broad sur- 
faces, subtle cutting, and a delicate polish, while in the 
tondo with the two boys, the slightest variation in surface 
level is used to define the forms and to suggest their 
flowing locks and spontaneous expressions. Desiderio’s 
works embody the ideals of elegance and refinement char- 
acteristic of the Florentine aristocracy at mid-century. 



Above: 12.12. DESIDERIO DA SETTIGNANO. Meeting of 
Christ and John the Baptist as Youths (Arconati-Visconti Tondo). 
c. 1453-64. Marble relief, diameter 20" (50 cm). The Louvre, Paris. 
In the sixteenth century, Vasari described a tondo of this subject, 
perhaps this one, as in the collection of Cosimo I de’ Medici, but 
no such work is listed in the 1492 inventory of the Medici Palace. 


This passage demonstrates that images in the home were 
intended to teach even very young children not only the 
identity of figures in religious art but also an understand- 
ing of Christian beliefs and moral behavior. In Desiderio’s 
relief, the boy Christ is distinguished by the cross in his 
halo, the youthful Baptist by the animal skin. Desiderio 
captures the vivacity of their interaction, and the happy 
expressions reveal a delight in their relationship that would 
indeed provide an appropriate model for children. 

Desiderio seems to have set out to achieve in marble the 
effects of light created in paint by Fra Angelico and 
Domenico Veneziano, and in gilded bronze by Ghiberti. 
He knew that the brilliant whiteness of marble meant that 
any shadow would be partly dissolved by the light from 
the crystals and partly radiated by reflections from sur- 
rounding illuminated surfaces. In the figures on the 


The Chapel of the Cardinal 
of Portugal 

Antonio Rossellino (1427-1479) was the youngest of five 
artist brothers, and his nickname (Rossellino means “Little 
Redhead”) became the name by which the whole family 
was known. He was the pupil of his older brother 
Bernardo (see figs. 10.5, 10.27). Antonio and his work- 
shop played an important role in the creation of the burial 
chapel of the Cardinal of Portugal (figs. 12.13-12.14), 
which required the collaboration of an architect, four 
sculptors (Antonio Rossellino, his brothers Bernardo and 
Giovanni, and Luca della Robbia), three painters (Alesso 
Baldovinetti and Antonio and Piero Pollaiuolo), their 
workshops, and other craftsmen as well. Despite these 
many hands, the chapel today — which looks exactly as it 


ART IN FLORENCE UNDER THE MEDICI I • 303 



12.13. ANTONIO MANETTI (architect); 
ANTONIO, BERNARDO, and 
GIOVANNI ROSSELLINO (sculptors); 
ANTONIO and PIERO DEL 
POLLAIUOLO and ALESSO 
BALDOVINETTI (painters). Chapel of the 
Cardinal of Portugal. 1460-73. S. Miniato, 
Florence (see also figs. 12.14, 12.27). 

1 Commissioned by the executors of the will 
of the Cardinal of Portugal. The altarpiece 
shown here is a copy of the original, by 
Antonio and Piero del Pollaiuolo, now in 
the Uffizi Gallery. 


must have in the 1470s — is a stylistically unified totality 
rather than a demonstration of the diverse talents of a 
number of individuals. 

James, a prince of the Portuguese royal family who was 
made a cardinal at twenty-two, died of tuberculosis in 
Florence when he was only twenty-five. He had expressed 
a desire to be buried at San Miniato, and immense sums 
poured in for his funerary chapel. After all, one of his 
cousins was king of Portugal, another was the Holy 
Roman Empress, and his aunt was the duchess of Bur- 
gundy, the richest state in Europe. The chapel was designed 
by Antonio Manetti, a pupil of Brunelleschi, and the archi- 
tectural detail was carved by Giovanni Rossellino, third of 
the five Rossellino brothers. Work started in 1460 and was 
carried out rapidly, as is shown in documents that log the 
work on the chapel almost from day to day. 

The ground plan is a perfect square, with arches on the 
three inner walls that match the open arch of the entrance. 
Coffers with decoration highlighted in gold fill each arch. 


Classicizing pilasters define the corners and frame each 
wall. The chapel’s unity is clearly the result of thoughtful 
planning. On the back and left walls, for example, there is 
a round window; on the tomb wall this is matched by the 
appearance of a Madonna and Child in a windowlike form 
of the same dimensions. The pattern of the metal gate that 
closes off the chapel resembles twisted rope; the same 
design decorates the painted railing behind the figures in 
the altarpiece. The landscape in the altarpiece looks like 
the view we would see over the Arno Valley if the altar 
wall were to be dissolved, while the cypress trees above the 
Annunciation on the left wall (see fig. 12.27) copy those in 
the cemetery just outside this chapel. The inlaid marble 
floor copies the Romanesque style of circles and geometric 
patterning (known as Cosmati work) in the pavements of 
the adjacent church; this pattern of circles is in turn echoed 
in Luca della Robbia’s enameled terra-cotta dome, which 
has five medallions representing the Cardinal Virtues and 
the Descent of the Holy Ghost. On the altar wall, Antonio 


304 


THE QUATTROCENTO 



►X*X«>>3 


"1 


12.14. ANTONIO ROSSELLINO. Tomb of the Cardinal of Portugal. 1460— 66. White and colored marbles with traces of polychromy and 
gold, width of chapel wall 15'9" (4.8 m). !m Chapel of the Cardinal of Portugal, S. Miniato, Florence. Commissioned by the executors of the will 
of the Cardinal of Portugal. Originally certain details were colored and/or gilded. 


ART IN FLORENCE UNDER THE MEDICI I * 3°5 




Pollaiuolo’s frescoed angels pull back curtains similar to 
those that surround the Cardinal’s tomb on the right wall. 

Documents reveal that in executing the tomb Antonio 
Rossellino was helped by several assistants and his brother 
Bernardo, but there is little doubt that he was the designer 
and leading master. As compared with earlier, static tombs, 
Antonio’s is dynamic. The traditional curtains seem to 
have been momentarily drawn aside to reveal the monu- 
ment. The cardinal lies on a bier above a coffin that 
Antonio imitated — at the cardinal’s request — from an 
ancient Roman porphyry sarcophagus at that time in the 
portico of the Pantheon. The two angels to the sides seem 
to have just alighted; one bears the Crown of Eternal Life, 
the other once held the Palm of Victory. The red marble 
background was once covered with gilded designs to 
resemble a brocaded cloth-of-honor, and an ornamental 
structure in the center of the wall is made of rare stones. 
Against this background two more angels seem to fly in, 
holding a circular marble wreath. Here, against a ground 
of blue with gold stars, the Virgin and Child bless the car- 
dinal. This heavenly vision seems to be resting briefly, 
poised against the architecture by the angels, as if in a 
moment they might move on. 

The angel with the crown can be attributed to the more 
conservative Bernardo, while the one who once held the 
palm shows the greater dynamism of Antonio’s style. 
Antonio was aware, like Desiderio, of the luminous possi- 
bilities of marble, but he found other means of exploiting 
it. In the Madonna and Child , placed so that the light in 
the chapel never leaves their features, we see how Antonio 
brings unity through light that flows over the surfaces of 
flesh and drapery. 

The handsome young cardinal seems to be dreaming of 
the paradise to which the sacred figures promise him 
entrance, although one could almost say that it lies around 
us as we stand in this most perfect of Quattrocento 
chapels. Documents suggest that Desiderio supplied a 
death mask of the cardinal, from which Antonio created 
the convincing portrait. The base of the tomb features 
youthful genii, cornucopias, unicorns holding garlands, 
and a skull that seems to be smiling. 

Benedetto and Giuliano da Maiano 

Of the host of marble sculptors at work in the later Quat- 
trocento, one of the most vigorous was Benedetto da 
Maiano (c. 1442-1497), who, like the Rossellino brothers, 
came from a family of stonecutters. The family is named 
for their hometown, Maiano, which is close to the quarries 
where pietra serena is still being extracted. Benedetto’s 
work includes a pulpit with scenes from the life of St. 
Francis for Santa Croce in Florence (visible in fig. 2.36), 



12.15. BENEDETTO DA MAIANO. Bust of Pietro Mellini. 1474. 
Marble, height 21" (53.3 cm). Museo Nazionale del Bargello, 
Florence. Probably commissioned by the sitter. 


the tomb of Filippo Strozzi (visible in fig. 13.33), a deco- 
rated marble doorway in the Palazzo dei Priori, and a 
number of portrait busts. Benedetto’s Bust of Pietro 
Mellini (fig. 12.15) presents a topographic survey of the 
wrinkled features of the elderly subject. There is an 
honesty here that is related to republican and early impe- 
rial Roman portraiture. 

Benedetto and his brother Giuliano were architects as 
well as sculptors. Giuliano (1432-1490) is best known as 
a woodworker and executor of architectural ornament; it 
is in this capacity that he worked on an important project 
for the Florentine Duomo: the inlaid wood ( intarsia ) deco- 
ration of the North Sacristy (fig. 12.16). Giuliano’s contri- 
bution included scenes of the local bishop-saint Zenobius 
flanked by two saints, and the Annunciation , flanked by 
the prophets Amos and Isaiah. The frieze around the top 
includes carved putti holding garlands, a motif derived 
from ancient Roman sculpture that became an important 
decorative element in Renaissance art. 


306 * 


THE QUATTROCENTO 



12.16. ANTONIO MANETTI, GIULIANO DA MAIANO, and others. Intarsia decoration of the North Sacristy of Florence Cathedral. 
1436— 45, 1463-65. Inlaid and carved wood, ii Commissioned by the Opera del Duomo. 

The decoration of the sacristy includes documented work by Agnolo di Lazzaro, Bernardo di Tommaso di Ghigo, Francesco di Giovanni di 
Guccio, and Lo Scheggia on the south wall, in addition to that by Manetti (the north wall) and Giuliano da Maiano (the end wall). The figure 
of Amos is perhaps based on a cartoon by Antonio del Pollaiuolo. The frieze with carved putti is by several artists including, possibly, Giuliano ’s 
brother Benedetto. 


The skill needed to execute such a project is 
evident, especially given the fact that intarsia workers 
prided themselves on using only natural-colored wood 
rather than resorting to dyed or bleached wood. Working 
from a cartoon prepared by the artist, woodworkers cut 
pieces of thin wood veneer and inlaid them into a solid 
ground. Intarsia was practiced in Italy beginning in the 
fourteenth century, with the Florentine Sacristy and the 
Studiolo at Urbino (see figs. 14.31-14.32), probably also 
designed by Giuliano, providing the best surviving exam- 
ples. Both rooms demonstrate the woodworkers’ interest 
in creating complex trompe Voeil effects in this 
difficult medium. 


In its gigantic scale and massive bulk, the Palazzo Strozzi 
(fig. 12.17) dwarfs every other residence in Florence. The 
design is attributed to Benedetto da Maiano, but the extant 
wooden model on display at the Palazzo Strozzi was made 
by Giuliano da Sangallo (see pp. 309-12), and the colossal 
cornice was added by Simone del Pollaiuolo, called 11 
Cronaca, who succeeded Benedetto as architect. 

Sources tell us that the Florentine banker Filippo Strozzi 
wanted to build a palace that would outshine any other in 
Florence. Mindful of the fate of his exiled ancestor Palla, 
however, Filippo showed designs for a more modest struc- 
ture to Lorenzo de’ Medici. Lorenzo thought them insignif- 
icant and urged Filippo to build something more imposing, 


ART IN FLORENCE UNDER THE MEDICI I * 3 07 




12.17. BENEDETTO DA MAIANO. Palazzo Strozzi, Florence. 1489-1507. Commissioned by Filippo Strozzi. 

When he returned from exile in 1466, Filippo Strozzi wrote: “I am constantly thinking and planning, and if God should grant me a prosperous 
life I hope to achieve something memorable.” After the palazzo was begun he wrote in his Memoirs that it was “for the benefit of myself and that 
of all my descendants.” The idealism of the Renaissance is evident in his hope that the family palazzo would serve “as an abode for great, noble 
men of good will.” 

When Filippo Strozzi died in 1494, the lowest story of the palace had been completed only to the height of the iron rings used for tying the reins 
of horses. The surviving wooden model of the Palazzo Strozzi should perhaps be related to Alberti’s advice: jfl always recommend the ancient 
builders’ practice by which not only drawings and pictures but also wooden models are made, so that the projected work can be considered and 
reconsidered, with the counsel of experts, in its whole and all its parts.” Unfortunately, II Cronaca’s cornice stops halfway along the Via Strozzi 
facade, and it is uncertain if it conforms to Benedetto’s original design. 


3 0 8 • 


THE QUATTROCENTO 






as befitted the magnificence of the Strozzi family and 
Lorenzo’s Florence. This gave Filippo the opportunity to 
do what he had intended all along. The finished building 
differs from Florentine palaces of the Medici type, as well 
as from Giuliano da Sangallo’s model, because it is unified 
by rustication that at first seems uniform; only close study 
reveals that the projection of the stones is slightly gradu- 
ated from one story to the next. Benedetto thus harmo- 
nized the parts in a manner that fulfills Albertian ideals. 

The oblong courtyard (fig. 12.18) is, in the opinion of 
some scholars, Florence’s finest Quattrocento courtyard. 
Compared to the Medici Palace courtyard (see fig. 6.26), 
the Strozzi example is larger and deeper, allowed Benedetto 
to use higher columns and arches. There are further refine- 
ments. Arched openings in the central story, some filled 
with cruciform windows and some originally left open, 
echo the open arches below. The third story is a loggia of 
delicate Corinthian columns united by a balustrade. Thus 
the courtyard both opens outward through the surround- 
ing apertures and seems to open upward through the use 
of superimposed verticals. The increase in scale and unity 
ty pifies later Quattrocento Florentine architecture. 


Giuliano da Sangallo 

Giuliano da Sangallo (1443P-1516) was the first eminent 
member of a dynasty of architects that included Giuliano’s 
brother Antonio the Elder (see figs. 18.1, 18.54-18.56) 
and their nephew Antonio the Younger (see figs. 
18.57-18.59). Giuliano, perhaps the most imaginative Flo- 
rentine architect of the later Quattrocento, was imbued 
with the refined classicism of the age, and his buildings 
provide a setting for the cultivated life we know from the 
writings of contemporary historians and philosophers. His 
knowledge of Roman antiquity was derived from study of 
the original monuments, and his drawings often document 
buildings that no longer exist or have been modified over 
the years (fig. 12.19). Despite this interest in antiquity, 
Giuliano never forgot his Brunelleschian heritage. 
Although he was probably only a year older than Donato 
Bramante, founder of High Renaissance architecture, Giu- 
liano did not produce any work in that new, grand style. 

Giuliano’s Florentine buildings of the 1480s include a 
villa at Poggio a Caiano (fig. 12.20), built for Lorenzo de’ 
Medici on a small hill (poggio is the Italian word for hill) 



12.18. BENEDETTO DA MAIANO. Courtyard, Palazzo Strozzi, 
Florence. 



flWfc ■% fflCiJQI H!ij iiielBi 


12.19. GIULIANO DA SANGALLO. Ruins of the Ancient 
Roman Theater of Marcellus, Rome. 1480s. Drawing, I8V4 x 15 V2" 
(46 x 37.82 cm). Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vatican, Rome. 


ART IN FLORENCE UNDER THE MEDICI I * 309 



12.20. GIULIANO DA SANGALLO. Villa Medici, Poggio a Caiano. 1480s. Commission cd by Lorenzo dc' Medici. The double staircase and 
crowning clock were added in the eighteenth century. 



near the plain of Prato. The site was chosen to command 
views of the plain and of the mountains to the north and 
south. The simple block of GiuLiano’s structure, with its 
plain walls and sharply projecting eaves, is interrupted by 
a temple portico, apparently the first in a long line of such 
porticoes fur Renaissance and Baroque villas. The widely 
spaced columns and low, broad proportions are unex- 
pected, but they may have been based on Etruscan models; 
such an archaeological reference would have been appreci- 
ated in the Tuscany of the Medici, 

Within the pediment are the Medici arms, the surround- 
ing space filled by flowing ribbons in an antique style. The 


12.21. GIULIANO DA SANGALLO. Sta. Maria delle Careen, 
Prato. 1485-92. Commissioned by the Opera of Sta. Maria delle 
Carceri, 

The imperus to build the church was to house a miracle-working 
image, as is revealed in the diary of Luca Landucd: 14 At Prato in July 
of 1484, the populace began to worship an image of the Virgin Mary, 
which was carried throughout the city. The image performed many 
miracles ... causing the townspeople to initiate the construction 
Jof a church | at great expense.” 


3 1 ° 


THE QUATTROCENTO 





N 



12.22. Plan of fig. 12.21. 


columns are Ionic, but a broad, fluted necking band 
increases the importance of the capitals in an effort to 
provide visual support for the rather heavy pediment. 
Behind the pediment, a barrel vault covers a loggia where 
the Medici and their guests could sit in the shade. A similar 
barrel vault, much larger, roofs the central hall of the villa, 
which was later decorated with a fresco by Jacopo 
Pontormo (see fig. 18.23). The cream color of the walls 
and the gray of the pietra serena are enhanced by an enam- 
eled terra-cotta frieze of white figures against a blue 
ground that represents legends of the ancient gods. 
Neither the sculptor of the frieze nor all the subjects have 
been identified. 

Giuliano’s other principal extant structure is the church 
of Santa Maria delle Carceri at Prato (fig. 12.21-12.23). 







! 2.23. Interior of fig. 12.21. 


ART IN FLORENCE UNDER THE MEDICI I • 3 I I 




Like so many other churches of the late Quattrocento and 
early Cinquecento, it was built to enshrine a miraculous 
image. The Greek cross plan was perhaps influenced by 
that of Alberti’s San Sebastiano in Mantua. It is sur- 
mounted by a dome with twelve ribs, twelve oculi, and a 
lantern, closely following Brunelleschi’s domes for the sac- 
risty of San Lorenzo and the Pazzi Chapel (see figs. 6.15, 
6.1). Giuliano’s forms, however, are more richly modeled, 
in accordance with the taste of the time, and on the inte- 
rior he inserted a walkway and balustrade at the base of 
the dome. The blue-and-white terra-cotta frieze is rich with 
lampstands, garlands, and ribbons, and each of the figured 
capitals is different. The exterior, still unfinished, has 
marble incrustation in the Albertian tradition, as seen in 
Luciano Laurana’s ideal cityscape (see fig. 14.30). The spe- 


cific details — a Doric lower story surmounted by an Ionic 
story two-thirds its height, with enframing pilasters clus- 
tered at the corners — also demonstrate the theorist’s ideals. 

Benozzo Gozzoli 

The painter who seems to typify the luxurious tendencies 
of the 1450s is Benozzo Gozzoli (c. 1421-1497). His long 
artistic career began in the studio of Fra Angelico. Later he 
worked in Umbria and in Rome where, with a collabora- 
tor, he was commissioned to paint mantles and banners for 
the crowning of Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini as Pope Pius 
II; unfortunately none of these examples of Renaissance 
ephemera survives. He returned to Florence to paint the 
frescoes in the chapel in the Palazzo Medici (figs. 12.1, 



12.24. BENOZZO GOZZOLI. Procession of the Magi. c. 1459. Fresco. Medici Chapel, Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, Florence. 
Probably commissioned by Piero de’ Medici (see also fig. 12.1). 


3 12 


THE QUATTROCENTO 




12.24; for the palace see figs. 6.22-6.26). The Medici 
belonged to the Company of the Magi, a religious organi- 
zation that flourished in Renaissance Florence. Their par- 
ticipation in this confraternity almost certainly explains 
the choice of the Journey of the Magi as the subject for 
their chapel decorations. Certainly, Benozzo’s frescoes 
have nothing to do with the rather penitential mood of 
The Adoration of the Infant Jesus painted by Fra Filippo 
Lippi as the chapel’s altarpiece only a few years earlier 
(see fig. 9.15). 

The landscape background that plays such an important 
role in Benozzo’s decoration is derived from the surround- 
ings of Florence and includes castles and villas owned by 
the Medici, while the retinue includes contemporary 
figures, several of whom seem to be trying to catch the eye 
of the spectator. The man on the white horse leading the 
cavalcade at the left has been identified as Piero the Gouty, 
while behind him is Cosimo riding on a donkey. Portraits 
of Piero’s children Giuliano and Lorenzo appear in the 
group to the left, below Benozzo’s self-portrait, which is 
identified by the Latin signature “OPUS BENOTII” (“The 
work of Benozzo”) on his hat. The clothing and horse 
trappings, studded with gold and blazing with red, blue, 
and yellow against the green of the foliage, are enhanced 
by the red Florentine robes. 

The composition is unified by the landscape, with its 
vertical trees and curving roads, and the walls of the chapel 
seem to have been painted away by Benozzo’s continuous 
panorama. The result is similar to the tapestry-like effect 
noted in the Gothic frescoes in Trent (see fig. 5.24), sug- 
gesting that Gozzoli’s patron may have wanted the paint- 
ings to emulate that much more expensive medium. 
Cosimo de’ Medici would have been as aware of the pres- 
tige of Northern tapestries as was the patron of the earlier 
frescoes. Benozzo, however, combines the decorative pat- 
terning of tapestries with a deep and broad Florentine 
landscape, strongly modeled figures, animals seen in con- 
vincing recession, careful observation of detail, and inci- 
sive portraits of the prominent Florentines who were his 
patrons and his patrons’ friends. 

Baldovinetti and Pesellino 

Among the artists of the Florentine Renaissance, Alesso 
Baldovinetti (1425-1499) was the only one brought up in 
patrician surroundings. The Baldovinetti were among the 
oldest families in Florence, and their house-tower is still 
visible from the Ponte Vecchio. Alesso was apprenticed to 
Domenico Veneziano at Sant’Egidio, but he soon came 
under the influence of Andrea del Castagno. In his journal 
he records having painted — more or less from Castagno ’s 
dictation when the latter was ill — a hell scene “with many 


infernal furies.” But the gentleness of Alesso’s art had little 
in common with that of Castagno, and his work is suffused 
with the soft light that he knew from the works of 
Domenico. While Baldovinetti’s art can be whimsical, 
witty, charming, and refined, he must be appreciated as a 
conservative artist rather than an innovator. 

Baldovinetti’s profile portrait of an unknown Florentine 
woman (fig. 12.25) expresses patrician Quattrocento ele- 
gance. She is posed in the conventional profile view that is 
used almost without exception for female portraits until 
the end of the century, long after male sitters are shown 
turned toward the observer (see fig. 13.26). Such a pose, 
precluding eye contact, is surely related to social practices; 
Alberti’s advice to women in his book on the family cau- 
tions humility lest one risk divine wrath: “A beautiful face 
is praised, but unchaste eyes make it ugly through men’s 
scorn. ... A handsome person is pleasing to see, but a 
shameless gesture or an act of incontinence in an instant 
renders her appearance vile. Unchastity angers God, and 
you know that God punishes nothing so severely in women 
as he does this lack.” 

The three palm leaves that decorate the sitter’s sleeve are 
probably a reference either to her paternal family or, were 
she married or about to be married, to that of her husband. 
The representation seems to be less a portrait of a specific 
woman and more an emblem of male property. The fact 
that she remains anonymous may underscore the limited 
status of women during this period. As this picture attests, 



12.25. ALESSO BALDOVINETTI. Portrait of a Young Woman. 
c. 1465. Panel, 25 x 16" (62.9 x 40.6 cm). National Gallery, London. 


ART IN FLORENCE UNDER THE MEDICI I * 3 I 3 




12.26. ALESSO BALDOVINETTI. Nativity . 1460-62. Fresco, 13 '4" x 14’ (4 x 4.3 m). Atrium, SS. Annunziata, Florence. Commissioned by 
Arrigo Arrigucci, whose portrait may appear in one of the medallions in the frame. 


the opportunities for expression, self-discovery, and inno- 
vation that Renaissance humanism opened to men were 
not equally available to women. 

Alesso’s interest in local landscape is evident in the Arno 
Valley view that he chose as the background for his fresco 
of the Nativity at Santissima Annunziata (fig. 12.26), 
which occupied him off and on between 1460 and 1462. 
This length of time should indicate that Alesso did not 
follow the traditional method used by Andrea del 
Castagno, for example, who could have completed a fresco 
this size in a month. But Castagno cared little about the 


subtleties of diffused light or Alberti’s total visual unity, 
while Baldovinetti seems to have concluded that he could 
obtain neither by traditional means. He therefore painted 
only a few portions of the picture in true fresco, and then 
waited until the plaster had dried so that he could paint a 
secco. Because the fresco was located in an atrium exposed 
to winter fogs and rain, in time the a secco faces, hands, 
and drapery peeled off, and Alesso’s underdrawing is now 
visible. Even so, the painting is impressive in the airy open- 
ness of its setting and the view over the expansive Tuscan 
plain, which is filled with the light of a clear winter day. 


3 14 


THE QUATTROCENTO 



1 2.27. ALESSO BALDOVINETTI. Annunciation. 1466-67. Fresco and panel, width of chapel wall 15 1 9 " (4.8 m). m. Chapel of the Cardinal of 
Portugal, S. Miniato, Florence. Commissioned by the executors of the will of the Cardinal of Portugal. See fig. 12.13. 


Baldovinetti was the choice when, in 1466, the execu- 
tors of the Cardinal of Portugal needed a painter to deco- 
rate the walls, lunettes, and spandrels of his burial chapel 
(see figs. 12.13-12.14). Baldovinetti’s Annunciation (fig. 
12.27) is placed over the exquisite throne that faces the 
cardinal^ tomb; because of the cardinal’s death it will 
terna in perpetually empty. Again Baldovinetti had to 
experiment, possibly because of pressure to finish the 
paintings rapidly. While the background of cypresses and 
cedars is painted in fresco, the wall, bench, and figures 
we re painted on an unprimed oak panel, probably in the 


artist’s studio in the winter months of 1466-67. Here and 
there the color has peeled away to show the grain. 

Francesco di Stefano (c. 1422-1457), known as 
Francesco Pesellino, was probably a pupil of Fra Filippo 
Lippi. He was not an innovator, but his style represents a 
synthesis of the developments we have been studying, and 
his surviving works — despite his early death — indicate that 
he had many patrons. His panel of The Triumphs of Love, 
Chastity , and Death (fig. 12.28) and its companion, The 
Triumphs of Fame , Time, and Eternity , originally deco- 
rated a pair of large chests known as cassoni (for a later 


ART IN FLORENCE UNDER THE MEDICI I • 3 X 5 



example, see fig. 13.17). Their themes are derived from 
Petrarch’s poem The Triumphs , written c. 1360-70. The 
chests are probably those identified as The Triumphs of 
Petrarch and listed, without the name of the painter, in the 
1492 Medici Palace inventory. They were located in the 
bedchamber occupied by Lorenzo il Magnifico, along with 
Uccello’s Battle of San Romano panels (see figs. 
11.5-11.6). 

In Florence during the fourteenth, fifteenth, and six- 
teenth centuries, such chests were commissioned to cele- 
brate a betrothal, and they would have been carried 
through the streets as a demonstration of the wealth of the 
families. It is possible that these chests were made for the 
wedding of Piero de’ Medici to Lucrezia Tornabuoni in 
1444. As storage places for clothing, such chests were 
heavily used, and as a result their lavish frameworks, with 
classicizing pilasters and pawed feet, are usually lost. The 
paintings that survive the dismembering of the chests are 
often inappropriately framed and displayed as Renaissance 
works of art hanging on museum walls. Pesellino’s two 
panels show the damage that resulted when the chests were 


locked or unlocked and heavy keys banged against them. 
The fact that they were carelessly treated in this way prob- 
ably indicates that, as taste changed, the paintings were 
considered to be old-fashioned and unimportant in both 
style and iconographic message. 

Petrarch’s Triumphs were a popular subject for cassoni 
and other decorations in Quattrocento Florence, in part 
because they provided a decorative way of exemplifying 
virtuous behavior. Pesellino’s panels are among the earliest 
known representations of the theme, and among the few 
that include all six triumphs. In the grouping depicted 
here, three carts topped by allegorical figures are pulled 
by various animals. Atop the cart of Love is blindfolded 
Cupid, who has let an arrow fly at an unsuspecting victim. 
On Chastity’s cart Cupid is shown bound and submissive 
below the allegorical figure of the virtue; unicorns, 
symbols of virginity, pull this cart, which is surrounded by 
delicate maidens. The cart surmounted by the haggard 
figure of Death comes from the opposite direction. Pulled 
by two black buffaloes, it is shaped like a coffin. The 
victims of Death’s scythe lie on the ground around the cart. 



316 * 


THE QUATTROCENTO 




Winter is the season of Death, as is evident in the barren 
landscape behind this cart. Petrarch’s poem presents a 
sequence of conquests, with Love conquered by Chastity, 
Chastity defeated by Death, Death by Fame, Fame by 
Time, and Time, in the end, conquered by Eternity. This 
sequence helps to explain the positions of carts in 
Pesellino’s series, for while Love’s cart moves from left to 
right, it is headed off by Chastity’s cart, which moves 
forward, only to be cut off by Death’s cart, moving in from 
the right. 

Quattrocento representations of the Triumphs are espe- 
cially valuable because they give us some idea of the 
appearance of the ornamented carts that were common in 
Florentine Renaissance civic pageants and processions. 
The visual, moral, and educational impact of these travel- 
ing displays on the populace of the city should not be 
underestimated. They were probably more noticed and dis- 
cussed than many an altarpiece, masterpiece or not, tucked 
away in a family chapel. 

Other popular subjects for cassoni were the Garden of 
Love, tales from Boccaccio, the Seven Virtues and the 


Seven Arts, scenes of battle or justice, and themes from 
Homer, Livy, and Virgil. Whatever the subject, the intent 
was usually didactic, and often directed specifically toward 
the female members of the household. The insides of the 
lids, which would be seen only by the members of the 
household and servants, were sometimes painted with a 
nude female figure in one and an almost nude male figure 
in the other; these were probably intended to represent 
classical figures such as Paris and Venus. Many botteghe of 
the mid-Quattrocento specialized in the production of 
cassoni , and because they were largely painted by assis- 
tants, many of the surviving examples are difficult to 
attribute to a particular painter or workshop. That 
Pesellino can be identified as the painter of this pair sup- 
ports the proposal that these luxury products were made 
for a Medici wedding. 

Pesellino’s style demonstrates a mastery of the tech- 
niques that the artists of the earlier decades of the Quat- 
trocento had developed. Later Florentine artists used the 
techniques and style established by their predecessors as a 
foundation for new developments, as we shall see. 



12.28. FRANCESCO PESELLINO. The Triumphs of Love, Chastity, and Death, c. 1444. Cassone panel, I6V2 x 6IV4" (42 x 154 cm). Isabella 
Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston. 

Pesellino, who was in partnership for a period with two other painters, had a bottega on the Corso degli Adimari, a street heavily populated with 
painters’ workshops. It was to this street that a potential patron might gravitate when looking for an artist. 


ART IN FLORENCE UNDER THE MEDICI I 


3 L 7 





ART IN 


A t the beginning of the final third of the 
Quattrocento, few of the innovators who 
had founded Florentine Renaissance art 
were still alive. Of those who were, 
Uccello was not working, and Luca della 
Robbia was old and his style had become repetitive. Piero 
della Francesca was painting in Urbino and Borgo Sanse- 
polcro, and Alberti was designing buildings for Florence 
and Mantua. The new generation of artists enjoyed what 
appears, in view of the general economic decline, to have 
been extravagant patronage from the great Florentine fam- 
ilies. In addition, Flemish oil technique made an impact 
with the arrival of a large northern altarpiece in the city 
(see fig. 13.32). The period was dominated by five artists: 
Antonio del Pollaiuolo, Andrea del Verrocchio, Alessandro 
Botticelli, Filippino Lippi, and Domenico del Ghirlandaio. 

All five were well acquainted with the methods of 
depicting space, form, and light discovered by their prede- 
cessors. But new fields remained for exploration, and the 
leading artists set out to investigate them. Professor Hartt 
defined the three broad stylistic directions explored by 
these artists as “Science, Poetry, and Prose.” While the 
actual situation is somewhat more complex, these cate- 
gories provide a useful way to understand the late Quat- 
trocento. That all three flourished reveals that Florentine 
patrons supported a variety of different styles. 

As Hartt defined it, the first of these tendencies begins 
with the premise that all nature is one, that plant, animal, 
and human physiology are as worthy of study as the prin- 



FLORENCE UNDER 
THE MEDICI II 


ciples of form, space, and light, and that motion, growth, 
decay, and dissolution are more characteristic of our world 
than mathematical relationships or, indeed, any other 
apparently enduring verity. The greatest exponent of this 
vitalistic, animistic, scientific trend is Pollaiuolo, but 
similar concerns motivated Verrocchio as well, if to a less 
marked degree. These two artists are the only two painter- 
sculptors of the period; they are also the most original 
sculptors. Pollaiuolo seems to have appealed especially to 
the elite of Lorenzo de’ Medici’s circle. 

The second current is concerned less with the outer 
world than with the life of the spirit. The artists of this 
lyrical, poetic, romantic current often emphasized the 
abstract values of line and preferred subjects that express 
emotional yearnings. The unchallenged leader in this 
movement is Botticelli, but Filippino Lippi at times keeps 
pace with him and at times goes beyond him into the 
realms of fantasy. This second current seems to have 
pleased the Medici less than it did those in their circle, 
especially the Neoplatonic philosophers. 

The third trend emphasizes the here and now. The 
master here was Ghirlandaio. The foregrounds of his reli- 
gious narratives are filled with contemporary Florentines, 
while the backgrounds show how Florence looked or how 
he thought it should look. Prose, not poetry, was the aim; 
his representations are descriptive, well-balanced, meas- 
ured, composed, and intelligible. This third style seems to 
have appealed especially to the well-to-do citizen without 
intellectual pretenses — the successful merchant or banker. 


Opposite: 13.1. DOMENICO DEL GHIRLANDAIO. Fresco cycle of the legend of St. Francis. 1483-86. Size of chapel: 12 '2" deep x 17'2" 
wide (3.7 x 5.25 m). Sassetti Chapel, Sta. Trinita, Florence. Commissioned by Francesco Sassetti. The unusual choice of sibyls for the chapel’s 
ceiling is probably in honor of Francesco’s daughter, who was named Sibilla. The basalt tombs at the sides are attributed to Giuliano da Sangallo. 
The altarpiece, also by Ghirlandaio, is the Nativity and Adoration of the Shepherds (see fig. 13.37). See also fig. 13.36. 


ART IN FLORENCE UNDER THE MEDICI II * 3 I 9 






Antonio del Pollaiuolo 

Antonio del Pollaiuolo (1431/32-1498) excels in subjects 
of action, especially themes from mythology in which his 
naturalism can be expressed. His treatments of scriptural 
themes sometimes take on a fierce air that seems to rein- 
terpret the religious content. Pollaiuolo means “poultry- 
keeper,” perhaps a reference to his father’s or another 
ancestor’s occupation. Antonio began as a goldsmith and 
designer of embroideries with gold and silver thread. As 
one would expect, he is adept at linear precision, but his 
fascination with the figure in motion is a surprise. No 
artist since Hellenistic times had treated this theme with 
anything approaching his ability. Andrea del Castagno, 
who greatly influenced him, had tried in his David shield 
(see fig. 11.16), but his attempt seems stiff when compared 
with the strong movement of Pollaiuolo’s figures. 

About 1460 Antonio painted three large pictures repre- 
senting the Labors of Hercules that are listed in the 1492 
inventory of the Medici Palace. Hercules, a favorite 
Florentine hero, appeared on the seal of the republic in the 
late Duecento and is even represented among the reliefs 
by Andrea Pisano on the Campanile. Pollaiuolo’s three 
paintings were among the works moved to the Palazzo dei 
Priori after the expulsion of the Medici, which suggests 
that they may have had a sharp political content. The 


paintings were among the first large-scale Renaissance 
works devoted to mythology. Because they were painted 
on canvas (unusual at this time; see fig. 13.24), it is possi- 
ble that they originally functioned as banners for a festival 
or tournament. The originals are lost, but Pollaiuolo’s tiny 
panels of Hercules and the Hydra and Hercules and 
Antaeus (figs. 13.2-13.3) probably preserve two of the 
large compositions. 

As in Piero della Francesca’s Montefeltro portraits (see 
fig. 11.31), the figures are silhouetted against earth and 
sky. But while Piero’s figures project their control over 
nature, Pollaiuolo’s seem to erupt from nature and to be 
pitted against it in mortal combat. Compositionally, the 
necks and tail of the hydra are counterparts of the winding 
river. Hercules seems almost as feral as the lion whose skin 
he wears and no less cruel than Antaeus, whose strength 
derives from his mother, the Earth. It seems that Pollaiuolo 
chose to represent Hercules not as a glorious hero, easily 
superior to the forces of evil that he is vanquishing, but as 
a being who accomplished his labors only with great 
effort. In rendering the human figure, Pollaiuolo avoided 
its potential nobility, emphasizing instead the strain of 
muscular activity. His bodies seem pushed to their physical 
limits. Where and how he studied bodies in motion is 
unknown, but there is evidence that suggests that he dis- 
sected corpses to understand how muscles, tendons, and 



Far left: 13.2. ANTONIO 
DEL POLLAIUOLO. 
Hercules and the Hydra. 
c. 1460. Panel, 6 3 /4 x 4 S M " 
(17.5 x 12 cm). Uffizi 
Gallery, Florence. Probably 
commissioned for the 
Medici Palace. 


Left: 13.3. ANTONIO 
DEL POLLAIUOLO. 
Hercules and Antaeus. 
c. 1460. Panel, 6 V 4 x 3 3 / 4 " 
(16 x 9 cm). Uffizi Gallery, 
Florence. Probably 
commissioned for the 
Medici Palace. 


3 2 0 


THE QUATTROCENTO 


bones are interrelated. Pollaiuolo lets our eyes wander over 
the rich tapestry of the backgrounds: the Arno Valley in 
Hercules and the Hydra with a microscopic Florence at the 
extreme left, and the seacoast in Hercules and Antaeus , 
with a little city at the right and mountains above. 

Probably during the 1470s, Pollaiuolo repeated the 
Antaeus composition in a small bronze group (fig. 13.4) 
that broke the rules followed by earlier sculptors. While 
the contours of previous statues and groups had been 
restricted by the notion of an ideal composition, in Pol- 
laiuolo’s sculpture figures can move in any direction neces- 
sitated by their actions. Antonio Rossellino had led the 
way, in the angels holding the Madonna tondo above the 
tomb of the Cardinal of Portugal (see fig. 12.14), but his 
figures were still constrained by the composition of the 
monument. Pollaiuolo’s composition is determined by the 
actions of the figures, its contours defined by flying legs 
and arms, clutching toes, noses, open mouths, even unruly 
curls. For one of the first times since antiquity, the space 
surrounding a sculptural group is electrified by the energies 
developed within. 

In his engraved Battle of the Nudes (fig. 13.5), the 
largest Florentine print of the fifteenth century, Pollaiuolo 
sets out to demonstrate his understanding of human 
anatomy. This print was widely circulated (more than forty 
copies survive, as well as a German woodcut copy), and as 


13.5. ANTONIO DEL 
POLLAIUOLO. Battle of the 
Nudes . c. 1470-75. Engraving 
and drypoint (first state), 
15 1 /8 x 23 1 /4" (38.4x59.1 cm). 
Cleveland Museum of Art. 

This work is Antonio’s only 
known engraving, but his skill in 
the technique is not surprising, 
given his training as a goldsmith. 
The Latin signature, OPUS 
ANTONII POLLAIOLI 
FLORENTINE guaranteed that 
Pollaiuolo would receive credit 
for this work; this is the first 
Italian print to be signed. The 
particular print shown here is 
the only surviving example of 
the “first state.” After this print 
was made, Pollaiuolo reworked 
the plate slightly and all other 
prints that survive represent the 
“second state.” 



Above: 13.4. ANTONIO DEL POLLAIUOLO. Hercules and 
Antaeus. Probably 1470s. Bronze, height 18" (46 cm) (including 
base). Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence. Probably commis- 
sioned by a member of the Medici family for the Medici Palace. 



ART IN FLORENCE UNDER THE MEDICI II 


3 2 1 



13.6. ANTONIO DEL POLLAIUOLO. Dance of the Nudes (portion). Late 1460s. 
Fresco underdrawing. Villa La Gallina, Florence. Probably commissioned by Jacopo and 
Giovanni di Orsino Lanfredini. 


a result it probably had a greater influence than any of 
Pollaiuolo’s other works. The unifying themes appear to be 
struggle and death, but no specific narrative subject has 
been determined and perhaps none was intended; this may 
be an early example of a work created as a demonstration 
of artistic skill. At the lower left a nude is about to dispatch 
a prostrate foe, but his victim plants a foot in his groin and 
aims a dagger at his eyes. Two swordsmen in the fore- 
ground may well dispose of each other, as will the figures 
just behind them, armed with swords and axes. At the 
right a man withdraws his sword from the side of his dying 
enemy, unaware that he is about to be slaughtered by the 
uplifted ax of a man behind him, who in turn does not 
notice the arrow aimed at him by the archer at the upper 
left. The composition of intertwined figures in superim- 
posed registers that indicate depth may have been sug- 
gested by the many ancient Roman sarcophagi available 
in Tuscany and Rome. Pollaiuolo sets his figures against a 
background of vegetation that includes olive trees and 
grapevines. The expressions of pain or cruelty on the faces 
of the figures convey a horror that has its counterpart 
in the torments of hell seen in representations of the 
Last Judgment. 

Equally unrestrained but of a completely different char- 
acter is the dance of nude figures with which Pollaiuolo 


decorated a room in the Villa La Gallina, near Florence 
(fig. 13.6). The painted surface is lost and the surviving 
underdrawing has been enhanced by a repainted dark 
background. The figure at the left moves in a pose fre- 
quently seen in ancient sculpture or cameos, but the other 
poses seem to be derived from direct observation. The wild 
and even bawdy nature of the movements of these figures 
reveals another side of Renaissance culture than the one 
epitomized by the altarpieces and private devotional pic- 
tures we have been studying. Those works are more likely 
to survive than secular decorations such as this one, and 
although this work is unique in Florentine Quattrocento 
art, it is not impossible that other works referring to 
human sexuality may have been created during this period; 
the emphasis on love in the poetry of the age supports such 
an interpretation. References to sexuality will become 
more common in the Cinquecento. However these figures 
are interpreted, this foot-stomping dance seems especially 
appropriate for a country villa. 

Pollaiuolo’s grandest surviving religious work, a monu- 
mental altarpiece of St. Sebastian (fig. 13.7), is a milestone 
in Renaissance art. The use of the triangle as a basis for 
a composition is not a new idea (see Masaccio’s Trinity , 
fig. 8.21, for example), but Antonio’s triangle seems 
less imposed on the figures than the product of their 


3 2 2 


THE QUATTROCENTO 



13.7. ANTONIO DEL POLLAIUOLO (and PIERO DEL POLLAIUOLO). St Sebastian. 1474-75. Panel, 97" x 6'8" (2.92 x 2.03 m). 
National Gallery, London. Commissioned by the Pucci family for the Oratory of S. Sebastiano (the Pucci family burial chapel) at 
SS. Annunziata, Llorence. 

The patron may have been Antonio Pucci, who built the oratory in the early 1450s. The church of the Annunziata possessed a relic presumed to 
be the arm bone of St. Sebastian; by devoting this altarpiece to St. Sebastian, the Pucci were allowed to house this relic in their chapel. It has been 
argued that Piero painted the body and head of the saint. 


ART IN FLORENCE UNDER THE MEDICI II 


3 2 3 



movements: the minute the last arrow is discharged and 
the bowmen leave, the triangle will dissolve. Antonio may 
have left the painting of the saint to his brother Piero, but 
the bowmen became a showcase to demonstrate Antonio’s 
skill. The positions of strain as the two crossbowmen wind 
their bows seem to display everything Antonio knew about 
muscular tension, while at the same time revealing his 
mastery of foreshortening. Passages of underdrawing 
visible through the thin paint layer show that Antonio at 
first drew the figures nude, only clothing them after the 
exact positions of their limbs were determined — a process 
that underlines the importance he allotted to accurate 
anatomical construction. 

In reality there are only three poses among the six 
archers. Pollaiuolo reversed each figure, but more as if he 
had turned around a clay model than as if he had followed 
the common painter’s practice of reversing a cartoon. 
Sculptor that he was, he may have done exactly that, 
although the surfaces of the bodies are so convincing that 
it looks as if living men posed for them while he was doing 
the painting. The effect of vivacity is increased by the scale, 
for the figures in the foreground are nearly life-sized. 
Michelangelo used the pose of the nude crossbowman for 
one of the nude youths on the Sistine Chapel Ceiling and, 
much later, for an angel hauling two souls into heaven in 
his Last Judgment (see fig. 20.1). Antonio’s incisive 
contour, a kind of analytic line that describes forms in a 
way that helps us to understand how they revolve in depth, 
leads directly to Michelangelo. 

The Arno Valley landscape in the background gave Pol- 
laiuolo an opportunity to exercise his skill in the rendering 
of nature. The triumphal arch, included to suggest the his- 
toric period when Sebastian was martyred, is adorned with 
battle reliefs and the patron’s Moor’s-head coat of arms. In 
the distance, enveloped in nature, should lie Rome, which 
Antonio had yet to visit. He substituted Florence, with the 
occasional hint of a Roman theater, dome, or obelisk; the 
shapes of the hills are taken from those near Florence. The 
Arno sweeps into view, moving too rapidly to offer reflec- 
tions in the manner of Piero della Francesca’s still waters. 
As in his altarpiece for the chapel of the Cardinal of 
Portugal (see fig. 12.13), Pollaiuolo has used oil glazes to 
convey distant haze, soft foliage, and rushing water. The 
freedom of his brushstroke, unexpected at this date, is 
an indication of how quickly Italian painters moved 
away from the precise, controlled brushstrokes of their 
Flemish contemporaries. 

Pollaiuolo’s ability to render the transitory effects of 
nature is also displayed in his Apollo and Daphne (fig. 
13.8), a tiny mythological subject perhaps created to deco- 
rate a piece of furniture. Before the shimmering curves of 
the Arno River, the god rushes across the meadow in 



13.8. ANTONIO DEL POLLAIUOLO. Apollo and Daphne. 
c. 1470-80. Panel, ll 5 / 8 x 7 7 /s" (29.5 x 20 cm). National Gallery, 
London. 


pursuit of Daphne. As he embraces her, he knows defeat, 
for her father, a river god, has answered her prayer for sal- 
vation. Daphne’s left leg has taken root, her arms have 
become branches, and in another minute she will be fully 
transformed into a laurel tree. Perhaps this tiny picture 
was created as an allegory of the invincibility of Lorenzo 
de’ Medici’s government, for the laurel was his symbol and 
also that of his second cousin and neighbor, Lorenzo di 
Pierfrancesco de’ Medici. 

Pollaiuolo’s Portrait of a Young Woman (fig. 13.9) is one 
of the last profile portraits of a woman to be produced in 
the Italian Quattrocento, for the type would soon give way 
to the three-quarter or full-face view already common for 
male portraits. But Antonio delights in the profile, which 
comes to vibrant life in his hands. His analytic line 
responds to every nuance of shape as it models the sitter’s 
delicate features. 


* 


3 2 4 


THE QUATTROCENTO 



13.9. ANTONIO DEL POLLAIUOLO. Portrait of a Young Woman, 
1467-70. Panel, 18 Vs x 13 3 /8 n (46 x 34 cm). Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan. 


By the last decade of the Quattrocento, Pollaiuolo’s 
influence in Florence and elsewhere was enormous. In 
1489 Lorenzo de’ Medici described him as the leading 
master of the city: “Perhaps, by the opinion of every intel- 
ligent person, there was never a better one.” Antonio’s 
final commissions were the papal tombs of Sixtus IV and 
his successor Innocent VIII. The huge bronze tomb of 
Sixtus IV (fig. 13.10) occupied the artist and his shop for 
nine years after the pope’s death in 1484. The portrait of 
the recumbent pope emphasizes his hawklike features and 
sagging flesh. He is surrounded by reliefs representing the 
seven traditional Virtues (Charity, Hope, Prudence, 


Fortitude, Faith, Temperance, and Justice). Below these, on 
the sides of the tomb, are allegorical female figures of the 
ten Liberal Arts to reference the pope’s humanist and intel- 
lectual interests: Philosophy, Theology, Rhetoric, 

Grammar, Arithmetic, Astrology, Dialectic, Geometry, 
Music, and Perspective. It is noteworthy that Perspective 
has entered this august company (fig. 13.11). She holds a 
book and an astrolabe, as well as an oak branch, because 
the pope was a member of the Della Rovere family, whose 
name means oak. The astrolabe suggests that during the 
Renaissance navigation and exploration were considered 
part of the discipline of perspective. 


ART IN FLORENCE UNDER THE MEDICI II 


3 2 5 






13.10. ANTONIO DEL 
POLLAIUOLO. Tomb of Pope 
Sixtus IV della Rovere. 1484-93. 
Bronze, length 14 '7" (4.45 m). Museo 
Storico Artistico, St. Peter’s, Rome. 
Commissioned by Cardinal Giuliano 
della Rovere for Sixtus IV della 
Rovere’s burial chapel in Old St. 
Peter’s, Rome. 


13.11. ANTONIO DEL 
POLLAIUOLO. Perspective, 
detail of fig. 13.10. 



326 • THE QUATTROCENTO 


Andrea del Verrocchio 

Although “Verrocchio,” the nickname of Andrea di 
Michele Cioni (1435-1488), means “true eye,” it refers 
not to exceptional powers of vision but to a Florentine 
family who were his early patrons. His training in the arts 
of painting and sculpture is still uncertain. Verrocchio’s 
most notable painting is the Baptism of Christ (figs. 13.12, 
16.11), for which his pupil Leonardo da Vinci painted 


some remarkable passages that will be discussed later (see 
p. 450). This is perhaps the first time this subject, which 
was important in Florence because John the Baptist is the 
city’s patron saint, was treated in an altarpiece, and 
Verrocchio’s composition is suitably simple and grand. The 
figures are loosely posed in front of wide views into a 
distant landscape. The bony forms, the emphasis on 
muscles and tendons, and the play of light over torsos, 
limbs, and hands are analyzed with the care of Pollaiuolo 



13.12. ANDREA DEL VERROCCHIO and LEONARDO DA VINCI. Baptism of Christ. Begun 1468 or 1471; 
completed c. 1476. Panel, 69 V2 x 59V2" (1.8 x 1.52 m). Uffizi Gallery, Florence. Commissioned for S. Salvi, Florence. 


ART IN FLORENCE UNDER THE MEDICI II * 327 



but without his interest in movement. The Baptist looks at 
Christ with intense devotion, while Christ looks down- 
ward and inward. 

The Baptism is closely related to Verrocchio’s Christ and 
St. Thomas at Orsanmichele (fig. 13.13; see also fig. 7.9), 



13.13. ANDREA DEL VERROCCHIO. Christ and St. Thomas. 
c. 1466-83. Bronze, height of Christ 7'6 l fi" (2.3 m). Orsanmichele, 
Florence. (Marble niche by Donatello, c. 1422-25; commissioned by 
the Parte Guelfa. ) Verrocchio’s group was commissioned by the 
Tribunale di Mercanzia. This historic photograph shows the group in 
the niche for which it was commissioned; it has now been replaced 
with a copy. 


an impressive demonstration of his skill in composition, 
knowledge of anatomy, and depth of feeling. The group is 
enclosed in a marble tabernacle commissioned in the early 
1420s by the Parte Guelfa, then the dominant force in Flo- 
rence, and was designed by Donatello to enclose his gilded 
bronze statue of St. Louis of Toulouse. With the rise of the 
Medici, the Parte Guelfa was eclipsed, and in 1463 their 
niche was sold to the magistrates of the Mercanzia, which 
acted as a tribunal to adjudicate disputes between mer- 
chants. Donatello’s statue was removed. The subject of 
Verrocchio’s group may have been chosen because the 
Mercanzia insisted that they were engaged in a search for 
truth and required, as had Thomas, tangible evidence. 

In interpreting the subject, Verrocchio clearly wanted to 
bring out the emotional intensity of the moment when the 
resurrected Christ invites Thomas to confirm his identity 
by touching the wound in his side. Thomas stands slightly 
outside the niche, overlapping the left column, and seems 
to be moving inward toward Christ, who is posed on an 
elevated base. To fit into the limited space, the figures had 
to be smaller than Donatello’s St. Louis. When they were 
removed for safekeeping during World War II, it was dis- 
covered that they have no backs; from behind they are 
hollow shells of bronze. 

Drama is centered less in the expressions on the calm 
faces than in the calculated space between the figures — the 
wound revealed by one hand, approached by another on a 
diagonal. The drapery patterns are not used to indicate the 
pose, as they had been in earlier Quattrocento sculptures; 
rather, the complex folds shatter the forms into facets of 
light and dark, the sculptural counterpart of Pollaiuolo’s 
free brushwork, conveying the rhythm of the figures but 
not their mass. According to sources, Donatello’s device of 
using cloth soaked in hardened slip (see p. 190) was emu- 
lated by Verrocchio, who substituted plaster for clay. The 
resulting restless patterns of the drapery and the rippling 
curls communicate the excitement inherent in this event. 
Words on the border of Christ’s mantle state, “Because 
thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that 
have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29). A 
recent cleaning of this impressive work has revealed the 
high level of Verrocchio’s craftsmanship and detailing. 
When the group was placed in its niche in 1483, the diarist 
Luca Landucci described the head of Christ as “the most 
beautiful head of the Savior that has yet been made.” 

Verrocchio’s Portrait of a Lady with Flowers (fig. 13.14) 
is the first three-quarter-length sculpted portrait since 
antiquity. When compared to earlier painted portraits, it 
offers a new simplicity. The woman’s hair, parted in the 
middle, is drawn to the sides and then allowed to escape in 
clustered curls. The costume is an unadorned tunic. The 
inclusion of her sensitive hands allows Verrocchio to 


328 


* 


THE QUATTROCENTO 





13.14. ANDREA DEL VERROCCHIO. Portrait of a Lady 
with Flowers. Late 1470s. Marble, height 23 5 /s" (61 cm). 
Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence. The sitter has often 
been identified, but without proof, as Lucrezia Donati, mistress 
of Lorenzo de’ Medici. 


comment more fully on her personality; with grace she 
holds a bouquet of flowers to her chest. This is the new 
naturalism of the 1470s, expressed in every detail, and sug- 
gesting in marble the nature of flesh even where covered by 
what seems to be a translucent garment. 

Verrocchio’s bronze David (fig. 13.15) is another 
demonstration of Verrocchio’s skill in representing textures 
and details. He may have conceived the figure as a 
response to Donatello’s bronze David (see fig. 10.22), then 
also in the Medici Palace. Verrocchio avoids the nudity of 
Donatello’s interpretation, clothing his figure in a leather 
jerkin and skirt. This more modest version seems to fit the 
restraint characteristic of the later Medici. The difficult 
contrapposto and uncertain expression of Donatello’s 
figure is here replaced with a calm and relaxed David 
whose face has a trace of a smile. 

Verrocchio’s final work is also his grandest. The condot- 
tiere Bartolommeo Colleoni (d. 1475) left a considerable 
sum of money to the Venetian Republic for a bronze eques- 
trian monument to himself to be set up in Piazza San 



13.15. ANDREA DEL VERROCCHIO. David, c. 1470s. Bronze, 
with traces of gilded details, height 497s" (1.26 m). Museo Nazionale 
del Bargello, Florence. Commissioned by Lorenzo de’ Medici for the 
Medici Palace. Sold to the Signoria of the city in 1476 for 145 florins. 


Marco, center of Venetian life. The authorities relegated 
the statue to a less important square, in front of the 
Scuola di San Marco (fig. 13.16), a solution that con- 
formed to the letter of Colleoni’s stipulation, if not the 
spirit. When and how Verrocchio received the commission 
is not clear, but in 1483 a monk recorded seeing on 
exhibition in Venice three colossal horses by three 


ART IN FLORENCE UNDER THE MEDICI II • 3 29 





13.16. ANDREA DEL VERROCCHIO (completed by ALESSANDRO LEOPARDI). 
Equestrian Monument of Bartolommeo Colleoni. c. 1481-96. Bronze, height approx. 13' (4 m) 
without the base, fi Campo SS. Giovanni e Paolo (Zanipolo), Venice. Commissioned by the 
Venetian Republic with funds left by Bartolommeo Colleoni. 


competing masters. Verrocchio died before he could cast 
his clay model, and the bronze version was made by the 
Venetian founder Alessandro Leopardi, who also designed 
the statue’s base. The visual evidence suggests that in many 
details Leopardi lost the vitality that Verrocchio would 
probably have achieved had he been able to do the chasing 
himself; this is particularly true of the ornament, 
mane, and tail. However, as one comes upon the 
statue while crossing a little bridge over a canal, the effect 
is stupendous. 


Verrocchio abandoned the static concept of the eques- 
trian monument seen in earlier examples (see fig. 10.23). 
Now the general, helmeted and armed with a mace, seems 
to be urging his charger into battle. In mass and silhouette 
the group commands the surrounding space. The horse’s 
left foreleg steps freely, his veins and muscles swell, his 
head is turned, and his muzzle drawn in. The rider stands 
in the stirrups, his torso twisted in opposition to the 
movement of the horse’s head, dilated eyes staring, jaw 
clenched. The effect is dramatic and commanding. 


330 


THE QUATTROCENTO 


Renaissance Cassoni 


We studied a painting removed from a cassone , a Floren- 
tine wedding chest, earlier when we looked at the works of 
Francesco Pesellino (see fig. 12.28). Here we illustrate an 


example of a complete cassone , one of a pair (fig. 13.17). 
In this case we know who commissioned the work and its 
pendant, who the artists were, who the bridal couple were, 
and how much it cost. The painters were Jacopo del Sellaio 
and Biagio d’Antonio, and the woodworker who built the 



13.17. JACOPO DEL SELLAIO and BIAGIO D’ANTONIO, with the woodworker ZANOBI DI DOMENICO. One of a pair of 
cassoni made for the Morelli-Nerli wedding in 1472. Tempera paint on wood, gold leaf, height 83 V 2 " (212 cm); width 75 " (193 cm); 
depth 30" (76.2 cm). Courtauld Gallery, London. 

The lower scene is Camillus Defeating the Gauls , the upper, Horatius Codes Defending the Bridge against the Etruscans . The subjects found on 
the pendant are Mucius Scaevola Shows his Courage by Burning his Right Hand and Camillus with the Schoolmaster of Falerii; the end figures 
represent virtues. This cassone and its pendant are rare examples in which the attached backpieces ( spalliere ) survive intact, although some of the 
framing and woodwork have been restored. When Donna Vaggia di Tanai di Francesco di Nerli married Lorenzo di Matteo di Morello in 1472, 
she brought a dowry of 2,000 florins. The pair of cassoni were commissioned by Lorenzo for approximately 61 florins, about the same as the 
annual salary for a skilled laborer; the fact that this was the largest sum Lorenzo spent on a single object in his house indicates the importance of 
cassoni in the culture of the Florentine Renaissance. 


ART IN FLORENCE UNDER THE MEDICI II 


3 3 I 



chest was Zanobi di Domenico. Such collaboration was 
common in the Florentine workshop tradition, and may 
have been frequent when works had to be finished for a 
certain occasion, such as a wedding. The choice of themes 
drawn from ancient history is in the cassoni tradition; here 
all four scenes represent moments of heroism or good judg- 
ment and would seem to be directed toward the groom, 
who commissioned the two chests. The figures on the sides 
are seated allegories of virtues. The addition of a back 
panel (the spalliera ) here, which allows for a second nar- 
rative scene on each chest, shows a later development in 
cassoni design and indicates the growing elegance charac- 
teristic of the Florentine home in the later Quattrocento. 

Alessandro Botticelli 

The leader of our second, poetic current in later Quattro- 
cento Florentine art is Alessandro (or Sandro) Botticelli 
(1445-1510). His given name was Alessandro di Mariano 
Filipepi, but his older brother, a successful broker, was 
nicknamed “il Botticello” (“the Keg”). Sandro appears to 
have been cared for by this brother, and it was therefore 
natural to call him “del Botticello,” which in time became 
“Botticelli.” In his art he withdrew from the world around 
him and moved away from the physical vitality that char- 
acterizes the works of Pollaiuolo and Verrocchio. His style 
emphasized contour and line in complex and beautiful 
compositions that can be compared to the many layers of 
sixteenth-century polyphonic music. Nevertheless, Botti- 
celli was also recognized by Fra Luca Pacioli, follower of 
Piero della Francesca, as one of the great experts of per- 
spective. Although his work is sometimes praised for its 
gentleness, an Old Testament scene featuring the fate of 
Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (see fig. 13.19) reveals the 
dramatic intensity of which he was capable. 

Botticelli started as an assistant to Fra Filippo Lippi, and 
before Filippo died he entrusted Botticelli with the guid- 
ance of his son Filippino, who was only twelve years 
younger. Later, Botticelli was active in the shop of 
Verrocchio, along with the young Leonardo da Vinci. 
Almost from the start, however, his own style was anti- 
atmospheric, antioptical, and antiscientific. 

The subject of Botticelli’s Adoration of the Magi in the 
Uffizi (fig. 13.18) is common in the later Quattrocento, 
and Botticelli painted it at least seven times. As members 
of the Company of the Magi confraternity, the Medici 
family were traditionally represented as the magi (see p. 
313). The aged Cosimo, who died before Botticelli’s 
picture was painted, is here represented as the oldest 
magus, kneeling before the Christ Child. He holds the 
child’s feet, covering them with a veil that drapes over his 
shoulders. This action parallels that of a priest at the bene- 


diction of the sacrament, when he covers his hands with a 
veil to hold the foot of a monstrance containing the 
Eucharist, the body of Christ, for the adoration of the 
faithful. Botticelli’s picture can be interpreted as a refer- 
ence to the Florentine ritual, in which the Medici took 
part; to its religious import, then, a political ingredient 
must be added. 

The star of Bethlehem hovers over the Virgin and Child, 
who are enthroned upon a rock that hints at Calvary. A 
gentle Joseph stands behind and slightly above them. By 
raising these figures and placing them back from the fore- 
ground, Botticelli draws us into the scene. Below the first 
magus the two other magi kneel in intense conversation; 
they are apparently portraits of Giovanni (d. 1463) and 
Piero the Gouty (d. 1469), Cosimo ’s sons. The youth at the 
extreme left, embraced by a friend as he listens to the 
words of a somewhat older mentor, may be Lorenzo. At 
the right, a dark-haired youth in profile, gazing down- 
ward, resembles surviving portraits of Giuliano, Lorenzo’s 
brother (see fig. 12.5). The faces, foreshortened from 
above, below, and behind, are projected with equal sharp- 
ness by means of sculptural contours and the incisive light. 
The young man in the gold-colored cloak at the right, who 
gazes rather arrogantly outward, has generally been 
accepted as a self-portrait. Here the artist is more promi- 
nent than the patron, who has been identified as the white- 
haired man looking out toward us in the upper right 
group. Why he chose to honor the Medici in Botticelli’s 
painting remains unclear. 

Botticelli’s first monumental fresco commission was to 
depict rebels of the Pazzi Conspiracy on the walls of the 
Florentine Customs House (see p. 297). These were later 
destroyed, but possibly their success (certainly not their 
subject, as Pope Sixtus IV was implicated in the conspir- 
acy) led to Botticelli being called to Rome in 1481. He 
went with his fellow Florentines Cosimo Rosselli and 
Domenico del Ghirlandaio as well as Perugino, from 
Perugia (see p. 369). The commission was to participate in 
the decoration of a chapel constructed by Pope Sixtus IV 
della Rovere, which was named the Cappella Sistina in 
honor of its patron Sixtus (Sisto in Italian), hence the 
English name, Sistine Chapel. 

The chapel was intended to accommodate not only the 
Masses and other services of the papal court, but also the 
meetings of cardinals. Today only tourists with a special 
interest in Quattrocento painting manage to detach them- 
selves from Michelangelo’s later frescoes on the ceiling and 
altar wall to contemplate the works on the side walls (see 
fig. 14.17). These scenes from the lives of Moses and 
Christ were chosen, at least in part, to represent episodes 
in the Old and New Testaments that justified the claims 
of the papacy to universality. Like Roman cycles in 


3 3 2 ♦ THE QUATTROCENTO 



13.18. SANDRO BOTTICELLI. Adoration of the Magi, c. 1476. Panel, 43 3 A x 52 3 /4 M (1.1 x 1.34 m). Uffizi Gallery, Florence. Commissioned 
by the merchant Guasparre dal Lama, whose name, the Italian version of Caspar, explains the choice of subject. It was placed on the altar of his 
modest funerary chapel at Sta. Maria Novella, Florence (see fig. 2.35). The altar was dedicated on January 6, the feast day of the three kings. 


general, they may well contain additional layers of 
meaning, including references to the particular patron. 
Vasari argued that Botticelli was in charge of the decora- 
tive program, but an attempt has also been made to place 
Perugino in this role. 

If anyone exercised a commanding position with regard 
to the program, it must have been the pope. Moreover, 
some credit ought to be given to the common sense of the 
artists, none of whom was likely to want his paintings to 
appear out of harmony with the others. In the chapel of the 
Cardinal *of Portugal, for example (see fig. 12.13), visitors 
are still struck by the decorative beauty of the ensemble, 
yet the architect died before the work was begun, the 


sculptors and painters represented conflicting tendencies, 
the paintings were an afterthought, and no one artist 
stayed on the job from beginning to end. In the case of 
the Sistine Chapel, it is probably safe to suppose that the 
pope and his advisers determined the subjects and gave 
the artists guidelines as to unity, leaving the artists to 
work out among themselves consistency of scale, horizon 
line, palette, and the like. On closer examination, 
however, it becomes evident that none of the original 
four artists — or Pintoricchio or Luca Signorelli, who were 
later brought onto the project — was willing to sacrifice 
completely his artistic identity. Discrepancies of expression 
and even of compositional principles are evident, and 


ART IN FLORENCE UNDER THE MEDICI II • 333 


none of the artists left Rome with a trace of any of 
the others in his style. 

In each of the surviving frescoes of the Quattrocento 
cycle (two would be destroyed by Michelangelo when he 
frescoed the chapel’s altar wall with the Last Judgment ; see 
fig. 20.1), the foreground is almost filled with figures that 
narrate the principal incidents and are scaled at roughly 
two-fifths the height of the scene. The vanishing point for 
the background landscapes — which should govern the 
recession of the architecture as well, but does not always 
do so — is placed one-fifth above their heads. This two- 
fifths, one-fifth, two-fifths horizontal division of the 
scenes, crossed by a vertical division into thirds, is 
respected throughout the series. With typical Florentine 
rigor, Botticelli treats each of his scenes as a kind of 
triptych, grouping the figures and vertical masses such as 
architecture and trees into a central block flanked by 
two wings. 

Botticelli’s Punishment of Korah , Dathan, and Abiram 
(fig. 13.19) narrates how these three men challenged 
Aaron’s right to the high priesthood. When they inappro- 
priately assumed his role by offering incense to the Lord, 


they were swallowed up by the earth (Numbers 16:1-40). 
This unusual subject would appeal to a patron interested 
in asserting his power, and the fresco is opposite Perugino’s 
Christ Giving the Keys to St. Peter (see fig. 14.16), another 
scene emphasizing papal authority. In Botticelli’s fresco, 
the story, narrated from left to right, is fused with other 
incidents concerning Moses. At the left the earth opens up; 
only two figures are shown — one must already have van- 
ished — and flames arise to consume them. In the center, six 
figures offering false fire to the Lord are consumed by fire 
from heaven. On the right Moses seeks refuge from the 
seditious Israelites who tried to stone him. Botticelli has 
added an inscription from St. Paul to his representation of 
the Arch of Constantine in Rome: “And no man taketh 
this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God, as 
was Aaron” (Hebrews 5:4). Read together with the altar, 
the punishment, and the ancient triumphal arch, the 
narrative prefigures the mission of the Roman Church, 
especially as Aaron wears a papal tiara as a reference to 
the patron. 

The rays issuing from Moses’ forehead have a curious 
history. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai the 



13.19. SANDRO BOTTICELLI. Punishment of Korah, Dathan , and Abiram. 1481-82. Fresco, 11'5V2" x 1 8 1 8 ^ " (3.5 x 5.7 m). Sistine 
Chapel, Vatican, Rome. (For a diagram of the side walls of the chapel see fig. 14.18.) Commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV della Rovere. Botticelli 
had to lodge a complaint against the pope in order to be fully paid for his work in the chapel. 


3 3 4 


THE QUATTROCENTO 


second time, the biblical text says that rays of light shone 
from his face. In translating this into Latin, St. Jerome 
balked at attributing light to anyone who antedated Christ. 
The Hebrew word for “rays” could also be rendered 
“horns,” the translation chosen by Jerome, and so Moses 
is often represented with horns. In St. Paul’s Epistle, 
however, the word “rays” was allowed to stand. Botticelli’s 
Moses is a compromise: two horns made of rays. 

The Adoration of the Magi in Washington, D.C. 
(fig. 13.20) is more classical than the Uffizi Adoration (see 
fig. 13.18), and may reflect the influence of Botticelli’s stay 
in Rome. The looser figural arrangements of the earlier 
picture have given way to a circle in depth, open in the 
foreground to give a view of the Virgin and Child. The 
ruins suggest a once imposing Roman monument, with 
Joseph’s new roof replacing an entablature stone about to 
topple at the left. The shed’s beams recall the open timber 
ceilings of the Early Christian basilicas Botticelli must have 
seen in Rome. 


Botticelli chose the point of view of a hypothetical spec- 
tator standing at the center and well within the picture, on 
a line with the two magi nearest the Madonna. The other 
worshippers, and we with them, are distanced from the 
scene by the width of the grassy lawn, which we instinc- 
tively attempt to traverse in order to bring the architectural 
perspective to a resolution. We are caught up involuntarily 
in the worshippers’ movement toward the sacred figures. 
Botticelli must have been aware of the teachings of the 
Platonic Academy formed within the court of Lorenzo de’ 
Medici. One of the academy’s doctrines was the principle 
of desto (desire, longing, yearning), by which the soul, in 
its earthly exile, could mystically traverse the gulf separat- 
ing it from its home in God. In the Washington painting, 
such desto , already nascent in the Uffizi picture, activates 
the figures in the composition. Because of the difficulty in 
dating most of Botticelli’s works, it is unclear whether the 
Washington Adoration was conceived before or after the 
unfinished Adoration of the Magi by Leonardo (see fig. 



13.20. SANDRO BOTTICELLI. Adoration of the Magi. c. 1478-80. Tempera and oil on poplar, 26 3 A x 40 3 /i6" (70 x 104.2 cm). National 
Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (Mellon Collection). Some of the natural pigments in this painting have darkened: the greens, for example, 
have become brown and the medium blues have become dark blues. 


ART IN FLORENCE UNDER THE MEDICI II * 335 




13.21. SANDRO BOTTICELLI. Madonna of the Magnificat, c. 1480. Panel, diameter 
46" (120 cm). Uffizi Gallery, Florence. 


16.16). In any event, the two paintings cannot be sepa- 
rated by more than months, and the two Verrocchio pupils 
almost certainly knew each other’s compositions. They 
may even have quarreled about them, as we know they did 
over perspective and landscape. In the upper right back- 
ground of both images grooms are restraining unruly 
horses, although Leonardo’s interpretation is more tem- 
pestuous. Leonardo wrote that Botticelli claimed it was 
possible to paint a landscape by throwing a sponge filled 
with paint at the panel and turning the smears into land- 
scape forms. From Leonardo’s point of view, these would 
be poor landscapes, but to our eyes they are still accept- 
able. In its contours the landscape here enhances the move- 
ment of the figures, while its blue-green color provides a 
foil for the strong reds, blues, and yellows of the costumes. 


Botticelli’s Madonna of the Magnificat (fig. 13.21) was, 
like the earlier tondo by Domenico Veneziano (see fig. 
11.7), probably a wedding present or a gift made at the 
time of the birth of a child. The change in diameter from 
33 to 46 inches (83.8 to 120 cm) is typical of the increas- 
ing size of domestic objects during the second half of the 
Quattrocento, when Florentine patrons required larger 
and more sumptuous objects for their homes. 

Botticelli’s mastery of composition is evident in this 
elegant picture. Using the circular format as a base, he 
curves his figures around the periphery, leaving the center 
open for a view into a delicate landscape. The two sides are 
joined by the angels who reach up to place a filigree crown 
on the Virgin’s head, crowning her as Queen of Heaven, 
and by the fluttering folds of her transparent scarf. The 


336 • 


THE QUATTROCENTO 



name of the picture is derived from the hymn that 
the Virgin has just written in the book held open by angels: 
“Behold my soul doth magnify the Lord,” words that 
she spoke to Gabriel in accepting the Annunciation. As 
we watch, she dips her pen in the inkpot to continue 
the canticle. 

Like Pollaiuolo, Botticelli was called upon to paint the 
mythological subjects becoming fashionable at the court of 
Lorenzo and among the Florentine patriciate. Although the 
graceful figures in these paintings are depicted in Botti- 
celli’s characteristic style, they have the gravity he must 
have seen in ancient marble reliefs in Rome. Botticelli’s 
mythologies have been explained through the writings of 
the Florentine Neo-Platonists, notably Marsilio Ficino, but 
the interpretations are complicated by the kaleidoscopic 
nature of Neo-Platonic writings, which demonstrate how 
humanists can derive different meanings from the same 
ancient legend. In the following discussions, some persua- 
sive elements have been selected from still-controversial 
interpretations, and new elements added. Some day 
perhaps a “lucky find,” as the art historian E.H. Gombrich 
put it, will reveal exactly what these images were intended 
to communicate. 

While the gods of ancient Greece and Rome had sur- 
vived in one form or another throughout the Middle Ages, 
especially as personifications of the planets exercising 
power over human destiny, they had lost their ancient 
appearance. In Botticelli’s works they reappear on a grand 
scale, without much visual resemblance to ancient forms or 
representations, and with an allegorical meaning parallel- 
ing that of Christian subjects. Botticelli’s Venus and Mars 


(fig. 13.22), for example, has little in common with the 
nude Venuses of antiquity. Here we behold a lovely young 
woman, barefoot but clothed in voluminous folds that 
conceal her waist. Mars, a slender youth, lies on the 
ground, naked except for a strip of white cloth. While he 
sleeps, four impudent baby satyrs — among the first, if not 
the first, satyrs to make an appearance in Renaissance 
painting — play with his armor and spear, and one of them 
blows through a conch shell into his ear to demonstrate 
how soundly he is sleeping. 

The painting has sometimes been connected with a tour- 
nament of 1475, celebrated in Poliziano’s poem La giostra , 
in which Giuliano de’ Medici received the victor’s crown 
from Simonetta Vespucci. Internal evidence indeed sug- 
gests a connection with the Vespucci family, Botticelli’s 
neighbors, for the wasps buzzing about the head of Mars 
refer to the Vespucci coat of arms (“vespucci” in Italian 
means “little wasps”). Several passages from classical liter- 
ature were probably used by the humanist(s) who devised 
the painting’s iconography. Especially relevant is Marsilio 
Ficino’s astrological characterization of Mars as “out- 
standing in strength among the planets because he makes 
men stronger, but Venus masters him. ... Venus ... often 
checks his malignance ... she seems to master Mars, but 
Mars never masters Venus.” Part of the picture’s meaning 
was surely the conquering power of love, even over war, 
and the subjugation of violence by the powers of culture 
and the intellect. This is a lofty message, of course, but 
Mars’ deep sleep can also refer to another theme common 
in ancient and medieval writings: the ability of Venus — or 
of any woman — to defeat the male with strenuous sexual 



13.22. SANDRO BOTTICELLI. Venus and Mars. c. 1483. Panel, 27V4 x 68V4 (69 x 173.5 cm). National Gallery, London. Perhaps 
commissioned by a member of the Vespucci family. The size and the shape suggest that this was a spalliera panel, painted to be placed 
over a chest, bench, or some other piece of household furniture (see fig. 13.17). 


ART IN FLORENCE UNDER THE MEDICI II * 337 



activity. Mars’ sleep and Venus’ satisfied smile suggest that 
such an interpretation is possible. Although it is difficult to 
re-create the sense of humor of earlier periods, this inter- 
pretation suggests that humor may have been a part of the 
artist’s and/or patron’s original intent. Some may have con- 
sidered Botticelli’s painting scandalous, but it is not unex- 
pected in this period; bawdy humor about sexual activity 
can be found in at least one popular Florentine Quattro- 
cento print. 

The setting of Botticelli’s Primavera (“Spring,” fig. 
13.23) is a grove of dark orange trees, whose intertwined 
branches and golden fruit fill the upper portion of the 
picture. Between the trunks one glimpses the sky and, at 
one point, a hint of a distant landscape. Just off-center 
stands a modest figure, one hand raised as if in benedic- 
tion. At the right Zephyrus, the wind god, enters the scene 
in pursuit of the virgin nymph Chloris, from whose mouth 
flowers seem to issue; in the legend Zephyrus rapes Chloris 
and then marries her. Chloris is then transformed into 
Flora, goddess of Spring, who scatters blossoms from her 
flower-embroidered garment. Because the picture repre- 
sents the eternal spring that flourished in Venus’ garden, 
Flora is a key figure in decoding the meaning. On the left 
Mercury raises his caduceus to snag and dispel the storm 
clouds trying to enter the garden. The three figures dancing 
in a ring are the Graces; above, the blindfolded Cupid 
shoots a blazing golden arrow in their direction. The figure 
in the center, so much like one of Botticelli’s Madonnas, 
is Venus, goddess of Love and Beauty and also, in this 
context, Marriage. 

The Primavera can probably be identified with a paint- 
ing documented in the town house of Lorenzo di Pier- 
francesco de’ Medici in 1498. In about 1478 Marsilio 
Ficino wrote a letter to Lorenzo, who was then only four- 
teen or fifteen years old, in which he described the virtues 
of Venus: 

Venus, that is to say, Humanitas ... is a nymph of excellent 
comeliness, born of heaven and more than others beloved by 
God all highest. Her soul and mind are Love and Charity, her 
eyes Dignity and Magnanimity, the hands Liberality and 
Magnificence, the feet Comeliness and Modesty. The whole, 
then, is Temperance and Honesty, Charm and Splendor. Oh, 
what exquisite beauty! ... My dear Lorenzo, a nymph of such 
nobility has been wholly given into your hands! If you were 
to unite with her in wedlock and claim her as yours, she 
would make all your years sweet. 

To Ficino, then, Venus represented the moral qualities that 
a cultivated Florentine patrician woman should possess. 
Ficino’s passage may help to explain the restraint that 
characterizes Botticelli’s elegant interpretation of Venus. 


Botticelli’s chaste, modest, and submissive Venus may have 
been meant as a model for Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco’s 
bride, Semiramide d’Appiano. These qualities are empha- 
sized in humanist writings by Alberti and Lionardo Bruni 
as appropriate for the ideal woman and perfect wife. Bruni 
wrote that women should especially study the Roman 
poets, for “in no other writers can be found so many 
examples of womanly modesty and goodness ... the finest 
pattern of the wifely arts.” 

The Three Graces dancing in Venus’ garden are symbols 
of the beauty and grace that Venus offers to the world. 
Botticelli’s interpretation of these figures suggests that he 
or the patron were inspired by Alberti, who recommended 
that painters try to re-create an ancient work described by 
Seneca in which the Graces were shown nude or in trans- 
parent garments, dancing together with intertwined hands. 
Botticelli may also have been inspired by surviving sculp- 
tural compositions from antiquity showing three nude 
Graces, their hands joined; in one such example, one 
figure is seen from the rear and the other two from the 
front, as in his painting. The loose, flowing hair of Botti- 
celli’s figures indicates that they are unmarried virgins. 

Scholars have proposed various explanations for the 
painting based on the writings of Horace, Ovid, Lucretius, 
and Columella, but there are also noteworthy Florentine 
elements. The Roman poet Claudian, who in the Renais- 
sance was believed to have been a Florentine, wrote that 
all clouds were excluded from Venus’ Garden of the Hes- 
perides, where her “golden apples” (that is, oranges) grew. 
Botticelli’s garden boasts no fewer than forty-two varieties 
of plant common to Tuscany in the spring. Mercury, armed 
and helmeted, stands guard in a pose derived from the 
Davids by Donatello and Verrocchio (see figs. 10.22, 
13.15). Venus, moreover, is decorously clothed and wears 
the headdress of a Florentine married woman. Cleaning 
has revealed the delicate lines of breath from Zephyrus’ 
mouth that instilled new life in the nymph Chloris, whom 
he married, so that she could be reborn as Flora; this paint- 
ing was appropriately placed outside the nuptial chamber 
of Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco, whose wedding was planned 
for May 1482. 

The last word about this perpetually alluring allegory 
has yet to be written. For example, numerous associations 
with the Medici can be made. The golden orbs of the 
orange grove, so similar to the one that separates fore- 
ground from background in Uccello’s San Romano panels 
(see figs. 11.5-11.6), must have suggested to a Florentine 
Quattrocento eye the red palle (balls) of the Medici coat of 
arms. Also, Mercury’s rose-colored chlamys is strewn with 
golden flames, an attribute of the god but one that also 
belongs to St. Lawrence (Lorenzo). They decorate the 
saint’s vestments in Fra Angelico’s San Marco altarpiece 


338 . 


THE QUATTROCENTO 



13.23. SANDRO BOTTICELLI. Primavera. c. 1482(?). Panel, 6' 8 11 x 10'4" (2 x 3.1 m). Uffizi Gallery, Florence. Probably commissioned by 
Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici for his Florentine palace at the time of his wedding. 


(see fig. 9.4), made for Cosimo de’ Medici, and in many 
other representations, and the meteor showers that 
descend on the earth in August each year are known in 
Italy as “fires of St. Lawrence” because they occur at the 
time of his feast. Venus’ gown is also bordered at the neck 
with golden flames, while loops of flames encircle her 
breasts. Finally, Mercury also bore responsibility for 
doctors, whose symbol, the caduceus, he bears; Medici 
means “doctors,” and the Medici patron saints were the 
doctors Cosmas and Damian. 

Botticelli’s mythologies typify the learning and social 
graces of a society intent on reviving antiquity on a new 
scale, but less for the moral lessons that interested Alberti 
than for private delight. Botticelli’s painting gave this rare- 
fied ideal a perfect embodiment, and at the same time 
raised it to the level of poetry. In front of the dark green 
leaves and golden fruit of the grove that shuts out the 
world, the pale, long-limbed figures move with a melodi- 
ous grace, their golden tresses and diaphanous garments 
rippling about them. These lovely creatures seem almost 
weightless, and the composition seems to waver as the 
spring winds blow through it. Yet there is nothing hesitant 


about Botticelli’s style. In his hands energetic patterns of 
line are united with lighting from the side that emphasizes 
the sculptural relief of every feature, every lock of hair, 
every jewel. All surfaces are smooth, all masses firm, no 
edge is veiled in atmosphere, no brushwork visible. 

Slightly smaller than the Primavera , painted on canvas 
(a surface at this time usually reserved for ceremonial 
banners), and recorded in no Quattrocento inventory, the 
Birth of Venus (fig. 13.24) was seen, together with the 
Primavera , in Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco’s villa at Castello 
by Vasari in the mid-sixteenth century. The suggestion that 
the painting might originally have served a function differ- 
ent from that of the Primavera is supported not only by the 
unusual use of canvas but also by the more simplified 
composition and iconography. Whether it might have been 
a banner for a procession or festival is uncertain, but we 
know that Botticelli painted such works because he is 
documented in 1475 as painting a now-lost standard for 
a joust. 

Although the Birth of Venus corresponds to a passage in 
Poliziano’s La giostra , E.H. Gombrich related it to Ficino’s 
interpretation of the mythical birth of the full-grown 


ART IN FLORENCE UNDER THE MEDICI II • 339 






13.24. SANDRO BOTTICELLI. Birth of Venus, c. 1484-86. Canvas, 5'9" x 9’2" (1.75 x 2.8 m). Uffizi Gallery, Florence. Probably commissioned 
by a member of the Medici family. 


Venus after the sea had been fertilized by the severed geni- 
tals of her father, Uranus. Ficino saw this birth as an alle- 
gory of the birth of beauty in the mind of humanity. 
Botticelli’s Venus, arisen from the sea, stands on the front 
edge of a shell, while Zephyrus and a nymph waft her to 
shore, where she will be robed by a waiting Hour, one of 
her traditional attendants. The figure of Venus is derived 
from ancient statues of the Venus pudica (modest Venus) 
type, in which the figure tries to hide her nakedness with 
her hands. In Botticelli’s variation, her long golden hair 
sweeps gracefully about her, its flowing lines enhancing 
the willowy figure. The neckline of the waiting Hour is 
wreathed in laurel, presumably another Medicean refer- 
ence. The sea itself is simply rendered, with V-shapes 
suggesting waves. Flowers drift through the air, and Venus’ 
unearthly beauty is heightened by the use of gold pigment 
to highlight her hair; Botticelli’s use of gold here may have 
been inspired by Donatello’s use of golden highlights for 
his Penitent Magdalen (see fig. 12.6). The qualities of 
atmosphere and mass that so interested Renaissance artists 
are irrelevant in this picture, which is dependent on the 


delicacy of Botticelli’s line. His proportions show here their 
greatest exaggeration, yet despite this, the long neck and 
torrent of hair help to create an entrancing figure. 

Botticelli’s use of a sinuous line that conveys movement 
is even more clearly evident in his unfinished drawing of 
Abundance or Autumn (fig. 13.25). He began with black 
chalk, then consolidated and refined his ideas with brown 
ink using both a pen for delicate linear definition and a 
brush to create areas of subtle shadow. The final step 
was to add highlights in white to enhance both the 
three-dimensionality of the forms and the effect of refined 
movement. The areas that were not reinforced with ink — 
the cornucopia and two putti to the left — reveal the 
suggestive nature of the initial chalk drawing. The right 
leg of the putto directly to the left of the female figure 
was drawn in two different positions; had Botticelli 
completed the drawing, he would have had to select which 
he felt was more effective. No final work corresponds to 
this exquisite drawing and the fact that it remains unfin- 
ished suggests that the project for which it was intended 
was abandoned. 


340 


* 


THE QUATTROCENTO 




13.25. SANDRO BOTTICELLI. Abundance or Autumn. 1470s (?). Black chalk, pen and brown ink, brown wash, white heightening on pink 
prepared paper, I 2 V 2 x 10" (31.7 x 25.3 cm). British Museum, London. The drawing was originally attached to a mount, suggesting to one 
author that it had once formed part of Vasari’s book of drawings (see p. 37). 


ART IN FLORENCE UNDER THE MEDICI II * 34 I 






13.26. SANDRO BOTTICELLI. Portrait of a Man with a Medal 
ofCosimo de’ Medici. c. 1475. Panel, 22 5 /s x 17 3 /8" (57.5 x 44 cm). 
Uffizi Gallery, Florence. The medal that the man is holding, which 
is executed in raised gilded gesso, seems to be a plaster cast of the 
medal shown in figure 6.2. 


The sitter in Botticelli’s Portrait of a Man with a Medal 
of Cosimo de 3 Medici (fig. 13.26) may be Lorenzo di Pier- 
francesco, since the features resemble his profile portrait 
on a medal; whoever he was, he clearly felt a need to 
demonstrate his allegiance to the Medici. The bold place- 
ment of the head against the sky instead of a neutral back- 
ground is unexpected in a portrait painted at this time, and 
Botticelli demonstrates his ability to produce a powerful 
and strongly individualized presence. 

The Annunciation for Santa Maria Maddalena dei Pazzi 
(fig. 13.27) shows the increasing intensity of Botticelli’s 
later religious paintings. The event takes place in a room 
furnished only with Mary’s reading desk, but through the 
open door we look into her closed garden. The barrenness 
of the architecture serves as a foil for the emotional figures. 
Mary, whose pose is ultimately derived from Donatello’s 


Annunciation (see fig. 10.21), sways as if caught in a rushing 
wind. The biblical text says only that “her heart was dis- 
turbed within her,” but here she seems about to swoon. 
Her eyes are almost closed, her features pale. Botticelli’s 
flowing line creates a passionate emotional expression. 

The strong emotions, severe architectural forms, and 
bold, clashing colors of Botticelli’s late style suggest that he 
may have been a willing listener to the fiery sermons of 
Girolamo Savonarola, a monk from Ferrara who became 
prior of the monastery of San Marco in 1482 (see fig. 9.6). 
There is, however, no evidence that Botticelli, unlike his 
younger brother Simone, ever became a partisan of the 
political movement that Savonarola set in motion. In his 
sermons in the Duomo, the only building in Florence large 
enough to hold his audiences, Savonarola denounced the 
sins of Florence and the worldliness of the Renaissance 
with such force that listeners wept openly. The adherents 
of the Dominican preacher (known as piagnoni or 
“weepers,” from piangere, “to weep”) mobilized popular 
resentment against the Medici’s supporters, the palleschi. 

The “art of dying” had become a common theme in 
devotional literature starting in the later fourteenth 
century. Of Savonarola’s two sermons on this subject one 
is lost, but a second, preached on November 2, 1496, was 
published before the end of the year in a pamphlet entitled 
Sermon on the Art of Dying Well. The pamphlet, including 
four woodcut illustrations, is an early example of a mass- 
produced illustrated work. In the woodcut showing a man 
who has waited until the last minute to repent (fig. 13.28), 
his dilemma is evident in the contrast between the angels 
gathered above on the one hand and, on the other, Death 
knocking at the door and the devil standing by the man’s 
head. The tondo of the Madonna and Child with Angels is 
the kind of devotional picture that many Florentines kept 
in their bedrooms (see figs. 9.11, 13.21). The unknown 
artist hints at linear perspective but does not follow it in 
either the floor or ceiling patterns; the goal of this boldly 
graphic image was to exhort the reader and viewer to 
repent, not to admire the artistic presentation. 

Savonarola’s understanding of the power of images is 
clear in the “bonfires of the vanities” led by his followers, 
who exhorted Florentines to burn publicly their secular 
books and paintings, elegant clothing, and false hairpieces. 
The friar’s sermon encouraged his listeners to commission 
pictures of death and dying that they could contemplate in 
private. Although no surviving paintings can be related to 
this exhortation, perhaps the illustrations in the pamphlet 
were used in this way. Savonarola’s prophecies of the 
destruction to be visited on Florence seemed to come true 
when the armies of King Charles VIII of France entered the 
city in 1494, after the expulsion of Lorenzo the Magnifi- 
cent’s son, Piero the Unlucky. The peace that had reigned 


342 


THE QUATTROCENTO 



13.27. SANDRO 
BOTTICELLI. 
Annunciation. 1489-90. 
Panel, 59 x6lV (1.5 x 
1.56 m). Uffizi Gallery, 
Florence. Commissioned b] 
Benedetto di Ser Francesco 
Guardi del Cane for Sta. 
Maria Maddalena dei Pazz 
Florence. The frame, with 
the small painting of Chrisl 
as the Man of Sorrows, 
is original. 



Left: 13.28. Woodcut illustration from Girolamo Savonarola’s Predica 
delVarte del bene morire ( Sermon on the Art of Dying Well), published 
in Florence by Bartolommeo di Libri. 1496, with later editions in 1497 
and c. 1505. Woodcut in 18-page pamphlet, size of pamphlet 8 x 5V8" 
(20.3 x 12.9 cm). 

The text related to this image reads: “A man [lies] sick in bed who has 
waited until the last moment to do penance, but at that point few save 
themselves.... His wife and relatives gather around him and persuade 
him that he is not going to die, and everyone says, ‘Don’t frighten him, 
tell him he’s going to recover, sick people shouldn’t be discouraged’! .... 
[Also] the devil makes him desperate at that moment, arguing that he has 
committed so many iniquities that it is not reasonable that God would 
want to save him.” 


ART IN FLORENCE UNDER THE MEDICI II * 343 








13.29. SANDRO BOTTICELLI. Calumny of Apelles, 1497-98(?). Panel, 24 5 /s x 36" (62 x 91 cm). Uffizi Gallery, Florence. 

The iconography of Apelles lost painting was known to Renaissance humanists through a description by the ancient author Lucian. It has been 
suggested that Botticelli created this work without a commission, for his own satisfaction. If this was the case, a major question would be whether 
Botticelli’s main intent was to re-create an ancient work or to comment on the death of Savonarola. 


with few interruptions in central and northern Italy for 
forty years was over, and it became evident that the Italian 
states could not stave off domination by the centralized 
monarchies of France and Spain, not to mention the Holy 
Roman Empire. Eventually, Savonarola took over the gov- 
ernment of the republic, but problems in Florence and his 
attacks on Pope Alexander VI turned both the Florentines 
and the papacy against him. In 1498 he was tortured until 
he admitted the charges of heresy leveled against him. He 
and two of his assistants were hanged in front of the 
Palazzo dei Priori and their bodies burned; the ashes were 
thrown in the Arno. 

Botticelli’s apparent moralistic fervor during this period 
is illustrated by a painting of a difficult subject known as 
the Calumny of Apelles (fig. 13.29) because it attempts to 
re-create a lost painting on the theme of slander (calumny) 
by the ancient Greek painter Apelles, known in the Renais- 
sance only from a description. Whether Botticelli’s paint- 
ing has any connection with Savonarola is uncertain, and 


who the humanistically minded patron may have been is 
also unknown. It was Alberti who suggested that artists 
attempt to re-create this painting. Standing beside the 
throne of the unjust judge Midas are allegorical figures of 
Ignorance and Suspicion, who lift Midas’ donkey ears to 
whisper their advice. Slander, led by the hooded, bearded 
Hatred, and attended by Deceit and Fraud, who is adjust- 
ing her jewels, drags forward a nearly naked youth to face 
Midas’ judgment. Penitence, an old woman, looks away 
from the main scene toward the nude figure of Truth, who 
points upward, to heaven. 

The oppressive effect of the Calumny is in part produced 
by its illogical space. Most of the perspective lines vanish 
behind the head of Fraud, but the two barrel vaults in 
the center recess toward a lower point. The composition is 
further complicated by the throne at the right, which 
creates an axis of interest in conflict with the visual axis of 
the perspective. Sculptural friezes representing classical 
subjects dwarf the piers, which are pierced by transverse 


3 44 


THE QUATTROCENTO 


passages and decorated with niches. From these niches 
protrude statues — a Judith with the head of Holofernes at 
the extreme right, for example, and, at the center, a 
warrior in the pose of Castagno's Pippo Spano (see fig. 
11.14). More reliefs adorn the bases of the piers, and even 
the coffers of the vault are filled with reliefs. 

Within this active architecture, the figural composition 
is rendered in Botticelli's characteristic linear style. Echoes 
of earlier graceful figures occur here and there. Truth is an 
obvious reference to the Birth of Venus (see fig. 13.24). But 
the dreamlike quality of Botticelli's painted mythologies 
has turned into a kind of nightmare. It has been proposed 
that the picture was intended to defend the memory of 
Savonarola by suggesting that his accusers were wicked 
and his judge weak — a suggestion rendered plausible by 
the tattered Dominican habit in which Penitence is dressed. 

The crowded, dramatic style of the Calumny reappears 
in contemporary religious works by Botticelli, such as the 
painting of 1500 now known as the Mystic Nativity . On 
the basis of the cryptic inscription across the top (see 
caption to fig. 13.30), it has been suggested that this work 
was painted for the artist's personal satisfaction. The 
picture has been difficult to interpret despite this text. 
While a few elements are drawn from Chapters 11 and 12 
of the Book of Revelation, some of the figures are not, and 
there are specific references to sermons by Savonarola. The 
inscription’s reference to the second woe of the Apoca- 
lypse, which describes the fiery prophecies of two “wit- 
nesses” and their death at the hands of the Antichrist, 
almost surely refers to the deaths of Savonarola and his 
principal follower, Fra Domenico da Pescia. The “half time 
after the time” can only refer to the year 1500, the half 
millennium after the millennium of the Nativity of Christ. 

The “trouble in Italy,” to which the inscription refers, is 
not hard to identify, considering that the armies of Cesare 
Borgia were then loose in Tuscany. Botticelli suggests that 
after this passes we will be brought to the place where the 
mystic woman of Revelation 12 has found refuge with her 
child in the wilderness; then all devils will be chained 
under the rocks (we see this in the lowest foreground), 
angels will embrace us, and we may dwell in safety. Angels 
with olive branches draw shepherds forward to adore the 
Christ Child. In the heavens above, angels dance in a ring 
and crowns swing from olive branches. The embrace of 
peace, the circling patterns, the sheltering wood, and the 
protecting mother offer an atmosphere of calm missing in 
most of Botticelli's later pictures. Even the color is trans- 
formed: the jewel-like blues, yellows, and reds are a release 
from the harsh tones that characterized the immediately 
preceding period of Botticelli's art. 

During the last ten years of his life, Botticelli seems to 
have painted little. Although he was consulted along with 


other artists about the placing of Michelangelo's David in 
1504, the Florence of Leonardo, Michelangelo, and the 
young Raphael may have offered little or no opportunities 
of work for him. Commissions went to artists who could 
emulate the new style of the High Renaissance. Vasari, 
who would have us believe that Botticelli's patronage 
declined when he was under the influence of Savonarola, 
wrote that Botticelli became prematurely old and walked 
with two canes. 



13.30. SANDRO BOTTICELLI. Mystic Nativity. 1500. Canvas, 
42 V 4 x 29 V 2 " (108.6 x 74.9 cm). National Gallery, London. 

At the top of the painting is this inscription, in Greek: “This picture 
I, Alessandro, painted at the end of the year 1500, during the trouble 
in Italy in the half time after the time which was prophesied in the 
eleventh [chapter] of John and the second woe of the Apocalypse 
when the Devil was loosed upon the earth for three years and a half. 
Afterward he shall be put in chains according to the twelfth woe, and 
we shall see [word missing] as in this picture.” The missing word 
may be “heaven.” 


ART IN FLORENCE UNDER THE MEDICI II * 345 




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13.31. FILIPPINO LJPPI. Vision of St. Bernard, c. 1485-90. Panel, 6T0" x 6'5" (2.08 x 1.96 m). Church of the Badia, Florence. 
Commissioned by Francesco del Pugliese, a wealthy cloth merchant, for the monastic church of Le Campora at Marignolle, near Florence. 
The frame is original. 


346 • 


THE QUATTROCENTO 




Filippino Lippi 

The fourth important Florentine painter of the end of the 
Quattrocento, Filippino Lippi (1457/58-1504), received 
his early training from his father. Fra Filippo Lippi, accom- 
panied him to Spoleto in 1466, and remained there until 
Fra Filippo’s death in 1469. Filippino’s association with 
Botticelli lasted for a number of years, perhaps until 
the latter was called to Rome in 1481. In 1484 Filippino 
was asked to complete the frescoes by Masaccio and 
Masolino in the Brancacci Chapel (see figs. 8.7, 8.16) and, 
while his figures can be distinguished from those of the 
earlier artists, he based his compositions on theirs. The 
effect is a surprisingly unified chapel given the delay in 
its completion. 

Filippino’s style is demonstrated in the Vision of St. 
Bernard (fig. 13.31). Jacobus de Voragine’s thirteenth- 
century Golden Legend explained that one day, when 
Bernard was feeling so tired he could scarcely hold his pen, 
the blessed Virgin, about whom he had written so much, 
appeared to strengthen him. In later Cinquecento repre- 
sentations of the vision, Mary and her accompanying 
angels float as a heavenly apparition (see fig. 16.51). Here 
she stands quietly before Bernard’s outdoor desk, attended 
by wide-eyed child-angels, as she lays a slender hand on 
Bernard’s rumpled page. He stops writing to look up in 
adoration. Between Mary and the monk a Trecento maqu- 
script stands open so that one can read St. Luke’s account 


of the Annunciation. Filippino must have meant us to feel 
that Mary came to St. Bernard as the angel Gabriel had 
come to her, and that in this vision the Christ Child is born 
a second time, as St. Antoninus would have put it, in 
Bernard’s heart. On the hillside, monks look upward, 
astonished, at the golden glow through which Mary and 
her angels have descended. In the lower right-hand corner 
the donor folds his hands in prayer; a demon, gnawing his 
chains in defeat, can be seen in a hole in the rocks above 
the donor’s head. 

The naturalism of faces and hands, rocks and trees, even 
the appearance of the angels reveals the impact of an 
important artistic event. Florentine painters were pro- 
foundly impressed when a large altarpiece representing the 
Adoration of the Shepherds by the Netherlandish painter 
Hugo van der Goes (fig. 13.32) arrived in Florence, prob- 
ably in 1483. It had been commissioned by Tommaso 
Portinari, a Florentine who worked in Flanders for the 
Medici. The Florentines had seen small examples of 
Netherlandish painting, and a tiny oil on panel painting 
of St. Jerome attributed to Jan van Eyck and Petrus Chris- 
tus (now in the Detroit Institute of Arts) had belonged to 
Cosimo de’ Medici. The Portinari altarpiece, however, 
offered the Florentines the detailed realism of Northern 
painters on a huge scale and in a public setting. This work’s 
arrival in Florence was a revelation, and Filippino must 
have studied the melancholy faces of the Portinari children 
with care, as they are reflected in those of his angels. 



13.32. HUGO VAN DER GOES. Adoration of the Shepherds (Portinari altarpiece). Late 1470s. Panels: center, 8'4" x 10' (2.54 x 5.86 m); 
laterals, each 8'4" x 4'8" (2.54 x 1.42 m). Uffizi Gallery, Florence. Commissioned by Tommaso Portinari for Sant’Egidio, Florence, where it was 
placed on the high altar. 


ART IN FLORENCE UNDER THE MEDICI II 


3 47 



13.33. FILIPPINO LIPPI. Fresco cycle of the legends of St. Philip and St. John the Evangelist. 1487-1502. Strozzi Chapel, Sta. Maria Novella, 
Florence. Commissioned by Filippo Strozzi. 

The tomb of Filippo Strozzi behind the altar is by Benedetto da Maiano. The tomb is placed so that it seems to lie underneath the altar table, 
while the Madonna and Child sculpture that surmounts the tomb becomes a sculpted altarpiece for the chapel itself. The funereal symbolism is 
continued in the fresco above the tomb, which features angels holding skulls and a shelf with a row of skulls. Filippino’s frescoes on the back wall 
illusionistically suggest sculpture, thus integrating the marble tomb sculptures into the total decoration of the chapel. Filippino also designed 
the stained glass, which features the Madonna and Child above (as a reference to the patron of the church) and, below, Sts. Philip and John the 
Evangelist, to whom the chapel is dedicated. Notice how the decorative motifs in the framing of the window 7 match those in the frescoes. The 
figures in the vault are from the Old Testament. 


348 . 


THE QUATTROCENTO 


In Filippino’s frescoes of the legends of saints Philip and 
John the Evangelist, this antimonumental style comes to its 
climax (fig. 13.33). The frescoes for the Strozzi Chapel 
were commissioned in 1487 by Filippo Strozzi, builder of 
the Palazzo Strozzi (see fig. 12.17). He interrupted work 
on the chapel when he gave Filippino permission to go to 
Rome for an important commission in Santa Maria sopra 
Minerva. Strozzi died in 1494 without seeing the frescoes, 
which were not completed until 1502. The chapel was a 
Gothic construction, and Filippino transformed it with 
elaborate painted frames featuring details borrowed from 


motifs in Rome’s Golden House of the Emperor Nero. 
Since these decorations were found in what seemed to be a 
grotto, they became known as grotteschi — the origin of 
our word “grotesque.” They consist of lamps, urns, con- 
soles, masks, harpies, lions’ feet, and other decorative 
elements that can be combined vertically on pilasters or 
woven into fantastic webs covering walls or vaults. 
Filippino’s decoration is one of the first examples of 
grotteschi in Florence. 

St. Philip Exorcising the Demon in the Temple of Mars 
(fig. 13.34) is one of the most unexpected pictures of the 



13.34. FILIPPINO LIPPI. St. Philip Exorcising the Demon in the Temple of Mars. 1487-1502. Fresco. Strozzi Chapel, 
Sta. Maria Novella, Florence. 


ART IN FLORENCE UNDER THE MEDICI II * 349 



Florentine Renaissance. Apocryphal sources relate that 
when St. Philip entered the Temple of Mars in Hierapolis, 
in Asia Minor, a demon in the shape of a dragon burst 
from the base of the statue of the god and emitted such 
poisonous fumes that the king’s son fell dead. St. Philip’s 
exorcism of the dragon greatly displeased the priest of 
Mars and led to the saint’s crucifixion, which Filippino 
represents in the fresco above this one. At the upper right- 
hand corner of the scene of exorcism, so small that one 
hardly notices him, Christ appears in an opening in the 
clouds, carrying his cross and offering his blessing. 

The pagan altar is a huge exedra that encloses a statue 
of Mars, while below, to either side, herms, supposedly 
marble sculptures, twist as if alive. The ledges above are 
crowded with trophies — offerings from devotees — and, 
behind Mars, amphorae of various sizes and shapes. On 
the cornice, statues of kneeling, bound captives below 
winged Victories seem to mesh with the painted lamps that 
hang into the scene on chains from the mouths of three 
putti. The illusion becomes even more contradictory 
through Filippino’s suggestion that some figures are stand- 
ing in front of the frame at the sides; Filippino and 
Botticelli were classified as experts of perspective by Fra 
Luca Pacioli in 1494, but here Filippino demonstrates 
how a late Quattrocento artist could manipulate the hard- 
won perspective space of the earlier decades for his 
own experimentation. While the complex framing ele- 
ments invented by Filippino are restrained in color, the 
exotic nature of the altar of Mars is suggested by its bronze 
entablature, columns of varied marbles, green and gold 
capitals, and pink cornices. 

Mars, looking more like a living person than a statue, 
brandishes a shattered lance with one hand, while with the 
other he caresses what is supposedly a wolf, however much 
it may look like a hyena. The priest cringes in terror at the 
power of St. Philip. On either side stand priests, courtiers, 
and soldiers wearing exotic costumes apparently meant to 
suggest the Near East. The unity of body and pose that was 
mastered by earlier artists such as Donatello and Masaccio 
is understood by Filippino but is not an important part of 
his style. Instead he wraps his figures in voluminous and 
complex robes that enliven the composition and add to the 
expressive power of his narrative. Despite differences of 
costume, age, hair, beard, and skin color, the faces are 
essentially the same; individuality was less important here 
than evoking the nausea caused by the deadly fumes. 

Filippino died in 1504 at the age of forty-six, only three 
months after having submitted his judgment on the placing 
of Michelangelo’s David (see fig. 16.1). We are told that all 
the bottegbe of Via dei Servi closed in respect as his body 
was carried from the church of San Michele Visdomini to 
its final resting place in Santissima Annunziata. 


Domenico del Ghirlandaio 

Although the career of Domenico del Ghirlandaio 
(1449-1494) was even briefer than that of Filippino, his 
art might be considered a culmination of the Florentine 
Quattrocento interest in the presentation of naturalistic 
effects and realistic details. Domenico, together with his 
brother Davide, their brother-in-law Bastiano Mainardi, 
and an army of assistants, was awarded many major com- 
missions for public painting in Florence — frescoes and 
altarpieces — and a number of portrait commissions as 
well. Like Agnolo Gaddi at the end of the Trecento (see fig. 
5.11) and Giorgio Vasari in the third quarter of the 
Cinquecento (see figs. 20.40-20.43), Ghirlandaio and his 
school represented the accepted taste of the period. The 
scientific pursuits of Pollaiuolo and Verrocchio might 
appeal to Lorenzo the Magnificent, the arcane researches 
of Botticelli to Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco and his friends, 
but the ordinary Florentine businessman knew what he 
liked and may even have been irritated by so much fierce 
knowledge on the one hand and so much wild imagination 
on the other. Ghirlandaio’s prosaic style suited the success- 
ful merchant perfectly. 

The fate of Ghirlandaio’s reputation is instructive. When 
Quattrocento art was rediscovered by nineteenth-century 
critics, Ghirlandaio’s meticulous view of life about him 
impressed a generation that never quite understood 
Masaccio and were little interested in the art of Uccello 
and Piero della Francesca. Then, in the wake of Symbolist 
and Art Nouveau emphasis on emotive form in the late 
nineteenth century — which gave rise to the abstract forms 
and perspectives of the early twentieth century — 
Ghirlandaio fell from grace a second time. 

Gradually, however, his merits have become appreciated 
again. His art shows at least three important qualities: 
he had the freshest and most consistent color sense of any 
Florentine painter of his day; he was familiar with the 
achievements of contemporary architecture and was thus 
able to compose figures and architectural spaces in a 
complex unity; and his rendering of human beings 
reveals his interest in representing character. How future 
historians view Ghirlandaio’s contributions remains to be 
seen, but the vicissitudes in his reputation are typical of 
the manner in which different periods view the art and 
artists of the past. 

Born Domenico Bigordi, the son of a dealer in the 
golden garlands worn by wealthy women, the painter 
acquired his father’s nickname, Ghirlandaio (“garland 
maker”). He was trained as a metalworker, and it is not 
certain how or when he turned to painting. He was soon 
so popular that he could not work fast enough to satisfy 
the demand for his works. His Last Supper for the 


3 5 o 


THE QUATTROCENTO 


refectory of the monastery of Ognissanti (fig. 13.35) was 
dependent on Castagno — probably not the work at Sant’ 
Apollonia (see fig. 11.1), which Ghirlandaio most likely 
never saw, but Castagno’s lost Last Supper for Santa Maria 
Nuova. Ghirlandaio’s table is situated in an upper room 
with a view over citron trees and cypresses and a sky with 
falcons and pheasants. Nowhere is there a face as intense 
as those in Castagno’s surviving fresco, but the inner life 
of these apostles is clear from their reactions to Christ’s 
announcement of the betrayal. The freshness of the 
color, the balance of the composition, and the natural- 
istic handling of the faces and drapery epitomize 
Ghirlandaio’s style. 

Ghirlandaio included contemporary Florentine citizens 
in his frescoes for the Sassetti Chapel in Santa Trinita in 
Florence, dedicated by the wealthy banker Francesco 
Sassetti to the legend of his patron, St. Francis. In the Res- 
urrection of the Notary's Son (the central scene in the full 
view of the chapel, fig. 13.1), Sassetti’s five daughters with 
their spouses can be seen to the left. The figure to the far 
right is Ghirlandaio himself; next to him is probably his 


brother Davide. In the background, the boy who is the 
subject of the miracle falls from the window of a large 
palace; in the center, Francis blesses the child, who sits 
upright on his bier. The clarity of the narrative is reminis- 
cent of the simple ex-voto scenes still painted today for 
Italian village churches to record the miraculous interven- 
tion of saints in the lives of the faithful. The choice of this 
unusual scene may be related to the death of Teodoro, the 
son of Francesco Sassetti and his wife, Nora Corsi Sassetti, 
in 1478 or 1479; shortly thereafter, Nora Sassetti gave 
birth to a son who, in memory of his deceased brother, was 
also named Teodoro. 

Ghirlandaio set his scene in the Piazza Santa Trinita, 
right outside the church where the chapel is situated. On 
the left rises the Palazzo Spini, on the right the 
Romanesque facade of Santa Trinita (to be replaced in the 
late Cinquecento), and in the distance is the old Ponte 
Santa Trinita, lined with houses (replaced, after the flood 
of 1555, with a monumental new bridge; see fig. 20.27). 

In the Confirmation of the Franciscan Rule (fig. 13.36), 
Ghirlandaio’s determination to paint Florence into his 



13.35. DOMENICO DEL GHIRLANDAIO. Last Supper. 1480. Fresco, 13 x 2 6'6" (4 x 8.1 m). Refectory, Ognissanti, Florence. The face of 
Christ was repainted on a new patch of plaster by Carlo Dolci in the seventeenth century. 


ART IN FLORENCE UNDER THE MEDICI II • 35 I 



backgrounds is even more obvious. The scene of the pope’s 
approval of the order, which took place in Rome, is 
eclipsed in the foreground by a grouping of Florentines 
and in the back by a view of Florence’s most important 
public square, the Piazza della Signoria (see fig. 2.40). The 
four portraits to the right are Antonio Pucci, Lorenzo the 
Magnificent, and Francesco and Federigo Sassetti. Coming 
up the steps in the foreground is the humanist Poliziano, 
followed by Lorenzo’s sons: Giuliano is beside Poliziano, 
with Piero and Giovanni behind. We can still make out a 
nail hole in the middle of the central opening of the back- 
ground loggia. This is where Ghirlandaio’s bottega 
attached the nail that held the string used to mark the 
orthogonals of the perspective scheme and to create some 
of the semicircular arches of the setting. Ghirlandaio’s use 
of a Florentine setting for this Roman scene has been 
related to the idea that republican Florence represented the 
idea of a “new Rome.” 

In the chapel’s altarpiece, the Nativity and Adoration of 
the Shepherds (fig. 13.37), the Virgin adores the Christ 


Child, who rests on a bundle of hay. Corinthian piers, 
one bearing the date 1485, support the roof of the shed. 
The ox and ass look earnestly out and down over the 
manger, here a Roman sarcophagus, its inscription 
recording a divine promise of resurrection for the former 
occupant. The Roman triumphal arch in the background 
bears an inscription of Pompey the Great. The train of the 
magi passes through the triumphal arch and moves toward 
the foreground. The realism of the ox, ass, Mary, and 
above all the three shepherds shows Ghirlandaio’s study 
of Van der Goes’s Portinari altarpiece (see fig. 13.32). 
Ghirlandaio must have admired this work for the 
completeness with which the tiniest detail was rendered. 
Following Van der Goes, he incorporates a vase of flowers 
into his foreground, complete with the Florentine iris. But 
although the types and poses of his shepherds come 
straight out of the Portinari altarpiece, the differences 
between the two works are instructive: for all his 
absorption in Netherlandish detail, Ghirlandaio was a 
Florentine, and he assimilated the detail into the overall 



13.36. DOMENICO DEL GHIRLANDAIO. Confirmation of the Franciscan Rule by Pope Honorius III . 1483-86. Fresco, width at base 
17'2" (5.25 m). Sassetti Chapel, Sta. Trinita, Florence. See also fig. 13.1. 


3 5 * 


THE QUATTROCENTO 




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it Sassetti Chapel, Sta. Trinita, Florence. See also fig. 3.1. 

The frame is original; the grotteschi decoration on the pilasters was inspired by the ancient Roman frescoes that had recently been discovered 
in the Golden House of Nero in Rome. When Ghirlandaio visited the archaeological site he carved his initials onto one of the ancient walls. 


monumentality and compositional harmony of an Italian 
Renaissance altarpiece. 

One of Ghirlandaio’s major commissions was the series 
of almost twenty frescoes of the lives of Mary and John the 
Baptist that fills the Gothic chancel of Santa Maria Novella 
(fig 13.38; see fig. 2.34). The patron was the wealthy 
Giovanni Tornabuoni, a relative by marriage of the 


Medici, and Ghirlandaio was under such pressure that he 
enlisted his whole shop in the undertaking, including pos- 
sibly a thirteen-year-old apprentice named Michelangelo 
Buonarroti. The compositions are framed by a decorative 
Renaissance architecture closely connected, like that in the 
Sassetti Chapel, with the ideas of the architect Giuliano da 
Sangallo (see figs. 12.21-12.23) and full of elaborate detail. 


ART IN FLORENCE UNDER THE MEDICI II * 353 



13.38. DOMENICO DEL GHIRLANDAIO. Fresco cycle of the lives of Mary and John the Baptist, 1485-90. Tornabuoni Chapel (Cappella 
Maggiore), Sta. Maria Novella, Florence. Commissioned by Giovanni Tornabuoni. Ghirlandaio also designed the stained glass. The altarpiecc 
has been removed and is now in the Alte Pinacoteca in Munich, to be replaced by the marble construction seen here. 


3 54 


THE QUATTROCENTO 







13.39. DOMENICO DEL GHIRLANDAIO. Birth of the Virgin. 1485-5*0. Fresco, width approximately 14’9 M (4.5 m). Cappella Maggiore, 
Sta. Maria Novella, Florence. See also fig. 13.38. 


The Birth of the Virgin (fig. 13.39) takes place in an 
interior in Giuliano’s style. Anne reclines on a bed sur- 
rounded by paneling inlaid with ancient Roman designs, 
within which one can read both Ghirlandaio’s family name 
and his nickname. The child is held by attendants; another 
pours water for her bath. Giovanni Tornabuoni’s daughter 
Ludovica, standing dispassionately nearby with atten- 
dants, is dressed in a level of splendor that surely violated 
Florentine sumptuary laws. The details, including the 
frieze of putti, are painted with Ghirlandaio’s precision of 
observation and perspective consistency. 

Our farewell to Ghirlandaio might best be made with his 
incisive portrait of an old man with a child, possibly his 
grandson (fig. 13.40). The sitters have never been identi- 
fied. A drawing by Ghirlandaio showing the old man on 
his deathbed reveals that the painting served as a com- 
memoration. All the best qualities of Ghirlandaio’s art 

13.40. DOMENICO DEL GHIRLANDAIO. Old Man with a 
Young Boy. c. 1490. Panel, 24 3 /s x 18 Os" (62.7 x 46.3 cm). The Louvre, 
Paris. The disease that disfigured the old man’s nose is rhinophyma. 



ART IN FLORENCE UNDER THE MEDICI 11 • 35 5 






appear here: the inner gentleness of expression, the delicate 
light on the smooth surfaces, the brilliance of the color, the 
beauty of the landscape, the straightforward composition, 
and the honesty of detail, studied with such respect that 
the old man’s deformity loses its ugliness. 

Piero di Cosimo 

Although Piero di Cosimo (1462-1522) lived well into the 
sixteenth century, he is included at this point because his 
works are largely a reflection of Quattrocento concerns. 
Vasari, who loved a good story, tells us that Piero hated 
thunderstorms and fire, the latter to such an extent that he 
was afraid to cook, and that he lived on hard-boiled eggs, 
preparing fifty at a time. He also never allowed anyone to 
prune his fruit trees or weed his flowers. Piero’s works are 
exceptional, especially in their interest in wild landscape, 
but whether the artist was the character described by 
Vasari is uncertain. 

In a haunting painting by Piero (fig. 13.41), a young 
woman is shown with an asp coiled around her neck. The 
immediate association is with Cleopatra, which is the iden- 
tification Vasari gave to this painting, but the inscription 
identifies her as Simonetta Vespucci, the wife of Marco 
Vespucci, cousin of the explorer Amerigo Vespucci. The 
net of pearls that adorns her hair helps to confirm the iden- 
tification, as it is a vespaio , a “wasp’s nest,” and clearly a 
play on her husband’s name. Simonetta became, according 
to contemporary records, the platonic mistress (a construct 
of the period based on Petrarchan love sonnets) of Giu- 
liano de’ Medici, and a great joust was held in her honor 
in Florence in 1475. A year later, the twenty-three-year-old 
Simonetta died of tuberculosis, which explains the storm 
clouds and the threatening asp shown here. Her memory 
was celebrated by numerous poems and by a public 
funeral, in which her body was displayed in an open coffin 
so that her beauty could be appreciated. 

Scholars have disagreed over the identification and 
interpretation of the picture, arguing that it seems unlikely 
that a fifteenth-century Florentine woman would have 
been immortalized in a bare-breasted portrait. While this is 
true of a living woman, this is a posthumous image and 
can best be interpreted as a commemoration of a beautiful 
woman who died too young. The portrait may have had a 
cover in Piero di Cosimo ’s Allegory of Chastity Triumph- 
ing over Lust (not illustrated), which is approximately 
the same size. For a Quattrocento spectator, such a 
cover would have muted the surprising nature of the image 
by establishing that Simonetta’s virtue was the subject of 
the painting. 

A mythological scene by Piero (fig. 13.42) is now held to 
represent the death of Procris, daughter of Erectheus, king 


of Athens. According to Ovid, Procris was pierced in the 
chest by a javelin thrown by her husband, Cephalus, who 
mistook her for an animal concealed in the forest. Procris, 
here wounded in the throat, is mourned by a satyr, whose 
grief is as touchingly represented as is the wordless sympa- 
thy of the dog. Piero must have felt a deep kinship with 
animals. The landscape setting has been designed to 
emphasize the main subject, the flowers bending toward 
the center, and the sloping shores of the harbor reflecting 
the position of the nymph’s body. Some of the effect of 
softness in the sky was achieved by Piero blending his thick 
oil paint with his fingertips. 

It may have been Francesco del Pugliese, the wealthy 
cloth merchant who had commissioned Filippino Lippi’s 
Vision of St Bernard (see fig. 13.31), who asked Piero to 
paint a pair of spalliere representing the early history of 
humanity inspired by Lucretius’ ancient Roman text De 
rerum natura ( Concerning the Nature of Things). One 
panel (fig. 13.43) depicts a battle among humans, 



13.41. PIERO DI COSIMO . Fantasy Portrait of Simonetta 
Vespucci as Cleopatra (?). Early 1480s. Panel, 22 l /i x I6V2" 
(57 x 42 cm). Musee Conde, Chantilly. 


3 5 6 • 


THE QUATTROCENTO 


animals, and such half-human creatures as centaurs and 
satyrs. The forest setting is typically unpruned and fire 
breaks out here and there in wild gusts that seem to be 
brushed on quickly with bold brushstrokes. Piero’s imagi- 
nation enabled him to create a vision of the terrors, 
traumas, and troubles of prehistoric humanity, and he 
pulls us into this world through a combination of distant 
landscape and foreshortened figures: a dead dog at the 
far left, a horse to the right of center, and a rotting 


corpse in the right foreground. It is hard not to be both 
fascinated and horrified by the brutish behavior Piero 
assigned to our ancestors. How this evolutionistic view of 
mankind was reconciled with the account in Genesis we 
can only guess. 

The artists discussed here, together with innumerable 
imitators, bring to its close a century of great artistic 
fertility. As we will see, the art and architecture of the new 
century moved in a sharply different direction. 



Above: 13.42. PIERO DICOSIMO. Death ofProcris. e. 1495-1510. Panel, 25 3 A x 72 V-t" (65.4 x 184.2 cm). National Gallery, London. 
Like Botticelli’s Venus and Mars (see fig. 13.22), this was probably a spalliera panel. 



13.43. PIERO DI COSIMO. Hunting Scene, c. 1485-1500. Panel, 27 3 /4 x 5'6 3 /V (70 x 169.5 cm). Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 
(Gift of Robert Gordon, 1875). Probably commissioned by Francesco del Pugliese, perhaps in connection with his marriage in 1485. 


ART IN FLORENCE UNDER THE MEDICI II * 357 






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14 

THE RENAISSANCE IN 
CENTRAL ITALY 


W hile artists working throughout 
much of the Italian peninsula felt the 
impact of Florentine artistic innova- 
tions, their patrons often had little 
interest in the civic ideals expressed 
in the works created in Florence. The problems faced by 
most central Italian towns, for example, had little in 
common with the civic responsibilities considered impor- 
tant by the Florentines. If these states escaped absorption 
by Florence, whose territorial ambitions were aimed 
largely at protecting the Arno Valley, they fell under the 
control of other powers, especially, during the second half 
of the century, the papacy. In some centers the old com- 
munal form of government lingered on, however, and 
certain sovereigns, such as the counts (later dukes) of 
Urbino and the lords of Rimini, maintained their inde- 
pendence. A number of local schools of art flourished in 
southern Tuscany and in the regions now known as 
Umbria, Latium, and the Marches. The most important 
developed in the most populous centers: Siena and Perugia. 

Siena 

By the early Quattrocento the bonds that had once linked 
Siena with Florence had almost dissolved. In 1399 Siena 
submitted to the temporary overlordship of Giangaleazzo 
Visconti of Milan, who thereby outflanked Florence from 
the south (see p. 160). While Florence emphasized papist 
Guelph allegiances, Siena supported the Holy Roman 
Empire and received visits from Emperors Sigismund and 


Frederick III. At the end of the Quattrocento, the city was 
under the rule of a dictator, Pandolfo Petrucci. 

In artistic terms, Siena never had a revolutionary figure 
like Masaccio or Brunelleschi, and the city’s artists some- 
times seem to have regarded perspective as a novelty. They 
demonstrated little interest in the Early Renaissance and 
less in the High Renaissance, and antiquity made only a 
tardy and fragmentary appearance in their art. One excep- 
tion is the sculptor Jacopo della Quercia (see figs. 
7.19-7.24), but he worked as much in Lucca and Bologna 
as in his native city. 

We may wonder what Florentine artists thought of Siena 
when they visited. The reliefs contributed by Donatello 
and Ghiberti to the baptismal font in the Cathedral of 
Siena (see figs. 7.18-7.19) were soon imitated by Sienese 
artists, and when Donatello returned in the 1450s, a spark 
of his late style caught fire in the minds of some local 
sculptors. In 1458, when the Sienese humanist Aeneas 
Silvius Piccolomini became Pope Pius II, he called 
Bernardo Rossellino to Siena for architectural projects 
there and in the village of Corsignano, which the pope 
rechristened Pienza (see figs. 10.10-10.11). 

There are other contacts as well, but Siena in the Quat- 
trocento went its own way. Many patrons apparently con- 
tinued to prefer Gothic pointed arches and gold 
backgrounds. There was a dear demand for copies of 
works by the leading Sienese Trecento artists or for varia- 
tions on earlier works by Duccio, Simone Martini, and the 
Lorenzetti. The Sienese painters did, however, show a 
strong interest in nature. In Siena the open country began 


Opposite: 14.1. PINTORICCHIO and RAPHAEL. Departure of Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini for Basel. 1503-8. Fresco, m Piccolomini Library, 
Cathedral, Siena. Commissioned by Cardinal Francesco Piccolomini, who died in 1503, only a month after being crowned as Pope Pius III (see 
figs. 14.21-14.22). 


THE RENAISSANCE IN CENTRAL ITALY * 359 



14.2. SASSETTA. St 
Francis in Ecstasy , from the 
back of the Sansepolcro 
altarpiece. 1437-44. Panel, 
6'8 3 /4" x4’ (2 x 1.2 m). 
Berenson Collection, Villa I 
Tatti, Florence (reproduced 
by permission of the 
President and Fellows 
of Harvard College). 
Commissioned by the 
Franciscan Community in 
Sansepolcro for the high 
altar of S. Francesco, 
Sansepolcro. 


360 


THE QUATTROCENTO 




at the city walls, where one can still find vistas out over 
low ranges of hills to spacious views. Without the aid of 
Florentine science, Sienese painters made discoveries 
about landscape that were overlooked by the more sys- 
tematic Florentines. 

Sassetta 

Stefano di Giovanni (c. 1400-1450), who was nicknamed 
Sassetta (“little stone”) for unknown reasons, may have 
come to Siena from Cortona. His double-sided Sansepol- 
cro altarpiece, its elements now scattered, is his major 
work. The front showed an Enthroned Madonna and 
Child between four saints; on the back St Francis in 
Ecstasy (fig. 14.2) was flanked by eight panels illustrating 
the saint’s life (see fig. 14.3). 

Seen in its original position in the restricted space of a 
monks’ choir, the St. Francis in Ecstasy must have been 
compelling. Francis, extending his arms as he glides mirac- 
ulously over the sea, stands upon the crowned and bearded 
figure of the vice Wrath, who is attended by a lion. To the 
left, an elegantly dressed woman leaning on a boar while 
looking into a mirror personifies Lust. On the right, 
Avarice, a shriveled old woman dressed in black and 
accompanied by a wolf, keeps her moneybag in a rectan- 
gular chest. Above the saint soar three dainty blonde 
maidens who represent the Franciscan Virtues: Chastity 
with her lily, Poverty dressed in rags, and — in the center — 
Obedience with her yoke. The inscription on Francis’s halo 
identifies him as the patriarch of the poor. 

The saint’s pose and expression convey both rapture and 
calm. The figure is modeled in broad masses by a high light 
source, creating an effect of weight and supporting the 
notion that Sassetta may have studied the works of Masac- 
cio. While the facial features are equally sculptural, the 
head is curiously constructed; following Byzantine tradi- 
tion, Sassetta used the bridge of the nose as the center of 
the face, drawing a circle from this point to create the 
circles of the halo. The forehead and hair fall short, appar- 
ently to indicate that the head is tilted back. Sienese lin- 
earism reappears in the wrinkles in the saint’s forehead, 
temples, and cheeks, which are drawn as parallel curves, 
moving in elliptical, parabolic, or figure-eight patterns 
with dizzying effect. 

Around the saint blazes a mandorla composed of red 
seraphim with interlocked wings, a traditional Trecento 
device (see fig. 5.3). These have largely peeled away from 
the gold background, but originally they must have been 
striking. The representation of the distant shore with its 
hills and towers forces us to read the gold background as 
sky. We are aware of echoes of Simone Martini and the 
Lorenzetti, but this should not blind us to the fact that, 


without applying Florentine perspective, Sassetta has 
established a convincing distant landscape and has set a 
solid, well-modeled figure within that space. These are 
Renaissance elements, and they place Sassetta in harmony 
with what was happening in Florence at the time. 

In the smaller scenes, Sassetta gave free rein to his imag- 
ination and interest in space. The Marriage of St. Francis 
to Lady Poverty (fig. 14.3) shows the saint placing a ring 
on the finger of Poverty, who stands between Chastity and 
Obedience. As the three then float off for celestial regions, 
Poverty glances back sweetly toward her bridegroom. The 
curves of the Virtues harmonize with the shapes of the 



14.3. SASSETTA. Marriage of St. Francis to Lady Poverty, from 
the back of the Sansepolcro altarpiece. 1437-44. Panel, 34 5 /8 x 2OV2" 
(88 x 52 cm). Musee Conde, Chantilly. 


THE RENAISSANCE IN CENTRAL ITALY * 3 6 l 



cusped frame. At the lower right, Sassetta makes reference 
to Duccio in a tiny city that might have come out of a panel 
of the Maestd (see fig. 4.9). A white road runs across the 
valley floor to branch into curves among distant mountain 
ranges that are not just a backdrop; these peaks loom 
before us, their contours rippling in the evening air. Sas- 
setta here achieves a compelling sense of natural space. 

Domenico di Bartolo 

The first Sienese painter to capture some of the gravity of 
the Florentine Renaissance is Domenico di Bartolo (c. 
1400-1447). The influence of Masaccio is apparent in his 
Madonna of Humility (fig. 14.4), which, judging by its 
modest size, was probably intended for personal devotion. 



14.4. DOMENICO DI BARTOLO. Madonna of Humility. 1433. 
Panel, 36 5 /s x 23 V 4 " (93 x 59 cm). Pinacoteca, Siena. 


By representing the Madonna seated low upon a cushion, 
the artist endowed her with the virtue of humility, and this 
pose, first developed by Simone Martini in the 1330s, was 
widespread by the early Quattrocento. Domenico has 
packed his picture with bulky, Masaccioesque figures that 
are firmly placed in space. But Domenico’s Sienese lin- 
earism required every shape to be surrounded by a sharp 
contour that somewhat negates the modeling so important 
in the Florentine Early Renaissance. The Christ Child 
stuffs fingers instead of grapes into his mouth, and the 
angels with their elaborate curls have nothing to do with 
Masaccio’s ragamuffins. The scroll (cartellino) in the fore- 
ground states that Domenico “painted and prayed to” this 
Madonna. This unexpected inscription suggests that the 
painting may have been intended for the artist’s private use 
or, perhaps, that a patron or purchaser would not have 
been unhappy with the painter’s devotions to the Madonna 
while he was painting her. 

Domenico’s major surviving achievement is his partici- 
pation in a series of frescoes in the Pellegrinaio, the hall for 
pilgrims at Siena’s Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala 
(figs. 14.5-14.6). Our interest in the series is heightened by 
their unusual secular subjects, which deal with the charita- 
ble, civic, and medical activities of the hospital and, by 
extension, the Sienese government and population. The 
Gothic vaulting of the room established arched frames, 
through which we look, as if through windows, back into 
the spaces and events of the fifteenth century. Some of the 
settings seem to be the rooms of the hospital; attesting to 
Domenico’s accuracy is the three-legged basin shown in 
use in the Care of the Sick (fig. 14.6), which survives and 
is displayed at a nearby museum. In this image, Domenico 
combines specific portraiture with a carefully observed 
treatment of the male nude. The unidealized bodies of the 
sick man being placed in bed and the wounded man being 
washed exemplify the new interest in realism and are 
unthinkable without the influence of Masaccio. In their 
naturalism and wealth of imagery drawn from contempo- 
rary life, these frescoes provide remarkable insights into 
Sienese activities. 

In addition to saints and prophets and The Care of the 
Sick shown here, the subjects represented in the Pellegri- 
naio frescoes emphasized the history of the hospital and 
the wide reach of its charitable activities: The Founding of 
the Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala , The Building of 
the Hospital , Pope Celestine III Granting the Hospital 
Privileges , The Blessed Agostino Novello , Giving the 
Cloak of Office to the Rector , The Reception of Pilgrims , 
The Distribution of Alms , The Feeding of the Poor , and 
The Rearing and Marriage of Female Orphans . There were 
also seven scenes drawn from the Old Testament story of 
Tobias, but these have been lost. 


362 • THE QUATTROCENTO 




14.5. DOMENICO DI BARTOLO and others. View of the fresco cycle in the Pellegrinaio, Hospital of Sta. Maria della Scala, Siena. 1440s. 



14.6. DOMENICO DI BARTOLO. Care of the Sick. 1440-47. Fresco. Pellegrinaio, Hospital of Sta. Maria della Scala, Siena (see fig. 14.5). 
Commissioned by the hospital administration under the direction of the rector, Giovanni di Francesco Buzzichelli. 


THE RENAISSANCE IN CENTRAL ITALY * 363 



Matteo di Giovanni 

In their isolation, the Sienese painters of the second half of 
the Quattrocento inverted Florentine inventions to achieve 
personal poetic and expressive effects, absorbing the 
details of Renaissance architectural decoration while 
ignoring its harmony and dignified proportions, and trans- 
forming the linear grace of Botticelli to their own ends. 
One of the most subjective is Matteo di Giovanni 
(1435 P-1495), who is best known for four monumental 
compositions of the Massacre of the Innocents, three for 
Sienese churches and one executed in inlaid stone for the 
pavement of Siena’s Duomo. The popularity of such a 
horrific subject is perhaps due to the massacre of Christian 
children by the Saracens at Otranto in southern Italy in 
1480. In Matteo’s treatment of the theme for Sant’ 
Agostino of 1482 (fig. 14.7), the arches and columns of 
Herod’s palace suggest that the artist had visited Rome. He 
has left no foreground space, and every inch of Herod’s 
hall is occupied by screaming mothers, dead or dying 
babies, and bloodthirsty soldiers. The marble pavement is 
covered with infant corpses. Impassive courtiers flank 
Herod’s throne, while the gloating king is portrayed as a 


monster, one hand outstretched to order the butchery, the 
other, like a claw, clutching the marble sphinx on the arm 
of his throne. Matteo draws our attention to the soldier 
near the right-hand column, who pauses in his bloody task 
to look straight at the spectator. Can this be Matteo 
himself, trapped within this holocaust of his own creation? 

Vecchietta 

The visits of the Florentine sculptors Donatello and Ghib- 
erti and the intermittent presence of the native Jacopo della 
Quercia provided the impetus for Renaissance develop- 
ments by local sculptors in Siena. One of the most memo- 
rable, Lorenzo di Pietro, called Vecchietta (1412-1480), 
was also a painter. He was engaged to work with Masolino 
at an early age, picked up elements from the Florentine 
painters at mid-century, and executed one of the frescoes at 
the Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala. His most remark- 
able work is the Risen Christ (fig. 14.8), a bronze figure 
harrowing in its insistence on such realistic details as the 
veins on the legs, arms, and torso. The dramatic expres- 
siveness of Christ’s emaciated body suggests the influence 
of the late Donatello. The artist’s personal involvement is 



14.7. MATTEO DI GIOVANNI. 
Massacre of the Innocents. 1482. 
Panel, 7'11" x 7'10V2" (2.4 x 2.4 m). 
Sant’ Agostino, Siena. 


364 • THE QUATTROCENTO 



14,8, VECCHIETTA. Risen Christ. 1476, Bronze, -heigh t 
6' (1.8 ml. Ill Sta. Maria della Scala, Siena, Created by ihe artist 
for his own tomb chapel at the Hospital of Sta. Maria delta Scab, 

evident in the touching petition he addressed to hospital 
officials ashing that he be permitted to place this statue, a 
personal expression of late Quattrocento religiosity, in the 
chapel where his tomb was to be located. The idea that an 
artist would have a prominent tomb marked by an impor- 
tant work of art is an indication of the rapidly changing 
status of artists during this period. Later, in the sixteenth 
century, Raphael was laid in state and then buried in the 
ancient Roman Pantheon (see fig. 1.2), and both Titian 
and Michelangelo started but left unfinished representa- 
tions of the Pieta intended to mark their own tombs (see 
figs, 19.27, 20.16). 


Francesco di Giorgio 

Francesco di Giorgio (1439-1502) — architect, sculptor, 
and painter — was the only Sienese Quattrocento artist 
except for Jacopo della Quercia to acquire a reputation 
outside of Siena; he worked at the courts of Urbino, 
Naples, and Milan, where he was influenced by Leonardo 
da Vinci. His large Coronation of the Virgin (fig. 14,9) has 
a spatial composition that is difficult to unravel. A marble 



14.9. FRANCESCO DI GIORGIO. Coronation of the Virgin, 
1471, Panel, Il ( x 6'6" (3.4 x 2 m). Pinacoteca, Siena. Probably 
commissioned for the high altar of the Benedictine monastery' of 
Monte Oil veto Maggiore, near Siena, 


THE RENAISSANCE IN CENTRAL ITALY • 365 



floor recedes to steps that end at a wall articulated by 
pilasters and paneled in veined marble. The floor and steps 
are crowded with saints, while prophets sit atop the wall. 
Angels and cherubs support a floating platform of cherub 
wings and heads on which Mary kneels to receive her 
crown from Christ. At the top, a foreshortened figure of 
God the Father, feet first, is surrounded by a spinning 
cloud based on Dante’s description: the concentric circles 
around God represent the seven heavens, each having a 
planetary sign from the zodiac. At the apex, inside the 
highest circle, is an array of female nudes based on Dante’s 
statement that the final heaven, or empyrean, was “pieno 
d’amore” (“full of love”). 

A master of perspective, Francesco here renounces it to 
represent a synopsis of the Christian universe, including 
nine hierarchies of angels and eight of souls. In spite of the 
Renaissance treatment of figures and drapery, the effect is 
of an abstract schema, like Duccio’s Maesta , which nobody 
in Siena was ever quite able to forget (see figs. 4.5— 4.8). 
The mournful faces and staring eyes are as characteristic of 
Francesco’s paintings as are the treatment of drapery and 
hair and the poses of the figures. The dramatic and unex- 
pected color scheme is dominated by reds, orange-reds, 
and several shades of bright blue. 

Francesco’s sculpture shows a close acquaintance with 
the works of Donatello, Ghiberti, and Antonio del Pol- 
laiuolo. His Flagellation relief (fig. 14.10), probably 
modeled and cast in bronze during Francesco’s stay in 
Urbino in the late 1470s, provides a striking contrast to the 
earlier Flagellation by Piero della Francesca (see fig. 
11.29). The spatial impression created by the central 
portico and flanking architectural masses recalls Ghiberti’s 
reliefs on the Gates of Par adise (see figs. 10.1, 10.14), but 
the handling of the figures, left rough and sketchy after 
being cast in bronze, is derived from Donatello’s late style 
(see figs. 12.8-12.9). The tormented pose of Christ, with 
his head thrown back, and the wild movement of the 
yelling man who beats him suggest the poses and expres- 
sions of Pollaiuolo. 

The buildings Francesco portrayed are new in style, as 
were those he designed and built. The second stories of the 
palaces in the background of the Flagellation are raised on 
ground stories treated like gigantic podia, thus emphasiz- 
ing what came to be known as the piano nobile (the second 
story, where the nobles lived). On the left, Francesco pro- 
vided this second story with balconies. These two-story 
palaces, which contrast with the three-story palaces 
common in Florence and other Italian cities, seem to have 
been Francesco’s invention. Bramante, the most important 
architect of the High Renaissance and a citizen of Urbino, 
may have received the idea from Francesco. Also influen- 
tial is thetemphasis Francesco gave to the windows, which 



14.10. FRANCESCO DI GIORGIO. Flagellation . Late 1470s. 
Bronze, 22 x 16" (55.9 x 40.6 cm). Galleria Nazionale ddl’Umbria, 
Perugia. 


are treated as independent tabernacles with sharply pro- 
jecting frames, some composed of pilasters supporting a 
pediment and resting upon a continuous cornice. These 
were taken up by Bramante, Raphael, Antonio da Sangallo 
the Younger, and Michelangelo, and became a constant 
feature of monumental architecture through the later 
Renaissance and Baroque periods. 

Some of the grandest constructions of the late Quattro- 
cento and early Cinquecento were sanctuaries built to 
enshrine miracle-working images of the Virgin, including 
Giuliano da Sangallo’s Santa Maria delle Carceri in Prato 
(see figs. 12.21-12.23) and Francesco’s Santa Maria del 
Calcinaio (fig. 14.11), near Cortona. A miraculous image 
was found there in 1484, and the influx of pilgrims was so 
great that Francesco was commissioned to design a church 
to contain them. It was completed in 1515, long after the 
architect’s death, but the initial phases of construction 
seem to have proceeded rapidly, and there was enough 
built to dedicate the building in 1485. The plan is a Latin 
cross (fig. 14.12), its nave having three bays of diminishing 
depth to increase the apparent length of the church as seen 


366 • 


THE QUATTROCENTO 





Above: 14.11. FRANCESCO DI GIORGIO. Sta. Maria 
del Calcinaio, Cortona. Begun 1484-85; completed 1515, 
by Antonio da Sangallo the Elder. 



14.12. FRANCESCO DI GIORGIO. Plan of Sta. Maria del 
Calcinaio, Cortona. Begun 1484-85; completed 1515. 



14.13. FRANCESCO DI GIORGIO. Interior, Sta. Maria del 
Calcinaio, Cortona. Begun 1484-85; completed 1515. 


plaster walls and barrel vaults suggest a space larger than 
the one they actually enclose. The tabernacles in pietra 
serena seem to be independent sculptural entities within 
the broad expanses of white wall. 


from the entrance, a device already used at the Gothic 
church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence (see fig. 2.35). 
Francesco’s lofty two-storied hall is roofed by a barrel 
vault (fig. 14.13) and articulated by pilasters. The 
Corinthian order of the second floor, which is visually sup- 
ported by flat unmolded strips on the lower floor, supports 
the same kind of heavy entablature and cornice seen in the 
palaces of his Flagellation. 

The tabernacle windows, with their sharply projecting 
pediments, are identical inside and out, and are the direct 
ancestors of the tabernacles that play such an important 
role in the architecture of Michelangelo (see fig. 18.11). All 
four ends of the Latin cross plan are flat. An unbroken 
entablature encircles the church, and the plain white 


Neroccio de’ Landi 

Neroccio de’ Landi (1447-1500), like many other late 
fifteenth-century Sienese artists, probably studied with 
Vecchietta, but he was also influenced by Francesco di 
Giorgio, with whom he collaborated between 1468 and 
1475. Like both these artists, Neroccio was both painter 
and sculptor. In 1483, he designed a figure of the Helles- 
pontine Sibyl that was translated into inlaid marble for the 
decorated pavement of Siena Cathedral (see fig. 2.26). 

Portrait of a Woman (fig. 14.14) epitomizes Neroccio’s 
style. The sitter is probably one of the three daughters of 
Bandino Bandini, a wealthy Sienese citizen; a costly dress 
and impressive jewels convey her status. The jewelry is 
simple in design, with an extensive use of pearls and some 


THE RENAISSANCE IN CENTRAL ITALY * 3 6 J 




14.14. NEROCCIO DE’ LANDI. Portrait of a Woman . c. 1485. 
Panel, 287i6 x 17 15 /i6 (61.8 x 45.6 cm). National Gallery of Art, 
Washington, D.C. The frame is possibly original. The letters “OP” 
and “NER” to either side of the text below are an abbreviation of 
the artist’s signature: “OPUS NEROCCIO.” 

large red stones, perhaps rubies; it can be compared to the 
delicate filigree earrings seen in Sienese painting of a 
century earlier (see fig. 4.27). Her cap and the neckline of 
her dress and undergarment are also decorated with pearls. 
Everything seems designed to set off her pale skin and the 
pale blonde hair that in Siena at the time would have been 
most unusual. The brocade of her dress and hat were orig- 
inally executed in gold leaf, and gold touches add high- 
lights to the trees and clouds in the background. The 
sitter’s loose hair indicates that she is unmarried: married 
Sienese women wore their hair pulled up in a knot. The 
Latin text below the figure refers to both her accomplish- 
ments and the appropriate female virtue of modesty: 
“Whatever a human being is permitted to, I attain through 
my prodigious art; yet, a mortal competing with the gods, 
I achieve nothing.” 

Neroccio and three other artists participated in the 
creation of a cycle of Famous Men and Women, of which 
seven panels survive. The selection of figures for the cycle 
is unusual — Joseph of Egypt, Alexander the Great, 


Artemisia, Tiberius Gracchus, Scipio Africanus, Claudia 
Quinta, and Sulpicia — suggesting that this group must 
have been selected by the patron, probably in consultation 
with a local humanist. In the Renaissance household, such 
groupings of figures were intended both as inspirations 
and as warnings. The inclusion of the chaste Claudia 
Quinta, painted by Neroccio (fig. 14.15), speaks to the 
importance of this virtue for Renaissance women. This 
young Roman woman was falsely accused of impropriety. 
She prayed to Cybele, the Mother Goddess worshipped in 
Rome, and when a ship transporting a gilded statue of 
Cybele to Rome became stuck in the Tiber River, Claudia 
pulled the ship free using only a thin cord, as seen in the 



14.15. NEROCCIO DE’ LANDI. Claudia Quinta , from a cycle of 
Famous Men and Women, c. 1490/95. Panel, 41 5 /i6 x I 8 V 2 (105 x 46 
cm). National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Probably commis- 
sioned by the Piccolomini family of Siena, as suggested by the family 
emblem of crescent moons held by putti below the figure. 

The occasion may have been the marriage of Silvio di Bartolommeo 
Piccolomini, grand-nephew of Pope Pius II (see p. 359), in 1493. 


368 * 


THE QUATTROCENTO 



right background. She thus proved her innocence to those 
gathered on the left, near the city gate. Elegantly posed on 
a pedestal before the narrative and landscape background, 
Claudia wears a transparent veil that flows out to the 
right, adding a slight suggestion of movement. The text on 
the plaque held by putti below tells her story and states 
that “Prudence and virtue triumph.” 

Perugia 

Located on top of a high hill in the Etruscan manner, 
Perugia dominates a considerable section of modem 
Umbria and southern Tuscany. Although the city embel- 
lished itself with splendid buildings, and a number of 
Roman, Florentine, and Sienese painters worked at nearby 
Assisi, Perugia produced an important school of painting 
only in the last decades of the Quattrocento. 

Perugino 

The leading painter of the Perugian School was Pietro Van- 
nucci (c. 1450-1523). He was born in Citta della Pieve, 


and is known today simply as Perugino (the Perugian). He 
brought the city from artistic obscurity to considerable 
renown and, as the teacher of Raphael, had a hand in 
shaping the High Renaissance. Where Perugino received 
his training is not known, but by 1472 he was a mature 
master and a member of the Company of St. Luke in Flo- 
rence. He may have worked with Verrocchio for a period, 
and he certainly absorbed Florentine notions of perspective 
and figure drawing, but he rapidly developed a distinctive 
style. He had little interest in creating dramatic or emo- 
tional religious images — Vasari said he was an atheist — 
and he often reduced his figures to routine patterns. The 
breadth and distance of his spatial backgrounds, however, 
established a new type of composition that integrated 
figures within the painted landscape. For a drawing by 
Perugino, see figure 1.20. 

The principles of Perugino’s spatial composition are 
evident in Christ Giving the Keys to St. Peter in the Sistine 
Chapel (figs. 14.16), part of the program commissioned 
by Pope Sixtus IV in 1481 (figs. 14.17-14.18; see also pp. 
332-34). Perugino represented the moment when Christ 
gives Peter the keys to heaven and earth, and the structure 



14.16. PERUGINO. Christ Giving the Keys to St. Peter, c. 1480-82. Fresco, IVSVi" x 18'8 Vi" (3.5 x 5.7 m). Sistine Chapel, Vatican, Rome. 
Commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV. Like Botticelli, Perugino had to lodge a complaint against the pope in order to be paid for his work. 


THE RENAISSANCE IN CENTRAL ITALY 


369 





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Above: 14.17. View of the side wall of the Sistine Chapel, with Perugino’s Christ Giving the Keys to St. Peter (see fig. 14.16). c. 1480-82. 
Vatican, Rome. Commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV della Rovcre. For another fresco in the cycle, see fig. 13.19. 



SOUTH ALTAR WALL 


3 70 


THE QUATTROCENTO 


Below: 14.18. Iconographic diagram of the side walls of the Sistine 
Chapel. 

Note: all frescoes on the altar wall were destroyed by Michelangelo 
when he painted his Last Judgment (see figs. 20.1-20.4). 

Frescoed Altarpiece 

A. Assumption of the Virgin , by Pietro Perugino, 

1481-82 (destroyed). 

Frescoes of the upper walls 

Old Testament Ltfe oe Moses, 1481-82: 

OT-1. Finding of Moses, by Perugino (destroyed). 

OT-2. Moses’ Journey into Egypt, by Sandro Botticelli. 

OT-3. Moses in Egypt, by Botticelli. 

OT-4. Crossing of the Red Sea, by Cosimo Rosselli. 

OT-5. Adoration of the Golden Calf, by Rosselli. 

OT-6, Punishment ofKorah, Dathan, and Abir am, by 
Botticelli (fig. 13.19). 

OT-7. Last Days of Moses, by Luca Signorelli. 

OT-8, Contest over the Body of Moses, by Signorelli 
(on east wall, destroyed) 

Frescoes of the upper walls 

New Testament Life of Christ, 1481-82: 

NT-1. Nativity of Christ, by Perugino (destroyed). 

NT-2. Baptism of Christ, by Perugino. 

NT-3. Christ Heals the Leper, by Botticelli. 

NT-4. Calling of the Apostles, by Domenico Ghirlandaio. 

NT-5. Sermon on the Mount, by Rosselli. 

NT- 6 . Christ Giving the Keys to St Peter, by Perugino 
(figs. 14.16). 

NT-7. Last Supper , by Rosselli. 

NT- 8 . Resurrection of Christ, by Ghirlandaio 
(on east wall, destroyed). 


in the center of the piazza is doubtless intended to repre- 
sent symbolically the Church as an institution, founded on 
the “rock” of St. Peter. It is surely no accident that this 
theme establishing the authority of the pope is opposite 
Botticelli’s fresco showing the punishment of usurpers who 
tried to assume the role of Moses (see fig. 13.19). Notice 
too that the buildings in Perugino’s painting are in pristine 
condition, in opposition to the decayed architecture 
painted by Botticelli. Perugino’s central structure is flanked 
by triumphal arches, modeled on Constantine’s arch in 
Rome, and bearing inscriptions comparing the building 
achievements of Sixtus to those of Solomon. In the middle 
ground the scene in which Christ says “render therefore 
unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s” (Matthew 
22:21) is shown to the left; to the right is the stoning of 
Christ, who, according to the Gospel of St. John, hid 
himself, then passed through the midst of his assailants. 

The perspective of the piazza is constructed according to 
Alberti’s system, although with larger squares, probably to 
avoid the visual complexity that would have resulted from 
using the size of square — three for the height of a human 
figure in the foreground — that the Albertian system 
recommended. The figures and drapery masses echo the 
works of Florentine painters and sculptors from Masaccio 
to Verrocchio, and the ideal church blends elements 
drawn from the Baptistery of Florence and Brunelleschi’s 
dome (see figs. 2.33, 6.7). 


Tapestries designed by Raphael (conjectural placement), 
1515-16: 

R-l. Conversion of St Paul (fig. 17.58). 

R-2. Blinding of Elymas. 

R-3 . Sacrifice at Lystra. 

R-4. St Paul in Prison. 

R-5. St Paul Preaching at Athens (for cartoon, see fig. 17.59). 
R-6. Stoning of St. Stephen. 

R-7. Miraculous Draught of Fishes. 

R-8. Christ’s Charge to Peter. 

R-9. Healing of the Lame Man (for cartoon, see fig. 17.57). 
R-10. Death of Ananias. 


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NORTH WALL 


ENTRANCE WALL 


THE RENAISSANCE IN CENTRAL ITALY * 371 


The fresco’s effect of openness, however, is strikingly un- 
Florentine. While frames, figures, or architecture usually 
enclose Florentine spatial compositions, Perugino allows 
the eye to wander freely through his piazza. It is filled with 
little but sunlight and air, and we can easily imagine its 
continued extension to the sides. No such immense urban 
piazza was ever built in the Renaissance; it would have 
been impractical and hardly a good example of urban 
planning. But in Perugino’s painting it provides a sense of 
liberation, as if the spectator could move freely in any 
direction. The buildings block the climax of the perspective 
scheme, but the viewer’s eye moves easily to the horizon, 
where the hills form what has been called the “bowl 
landscape” characteristic of the paintings of Perugino and 
his followers. 

Perugino’s figures are only superficially Florentine, for 
they stand with comparable ease, free from tension. Their 
poses are repetitive: one foot generally carries the weight, 
with the hip slightly moved to the side, one knee bent, and 
the head tilted, the figure as a whole seeming to flow gently 
upward. Raphael adopted this pose from Perugino, and it 
survived, in altered and spatially enriched form, to the 
final phases of his art. Like those of the other collaborators 
in the Sistine frescoes, Perugino’s main figures occupy a 
shallow foreground plane, and the grace of their stance, 
united with flowing drapery and a looping motion in the 
composition, carries the eye almost effortlessly across the 
foreground from one figure to the next. Perugino’s fresco 
is one of the most impressive examples of the Quattrocento 
interest in illusionism. 

Perugino has been credited with the supervision of the 
entire cycle because he painted not only this subject — 
which is of primary importance to papal claims — but also 
other important scenes in the chapel and the frescoed altar- 
piece of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, which was 
destroyed when Michelangelo painted his Last Judgment 
on the altar wall (see fig. 20.1). It is not clear, however, if 
one artist served as the supervisor; none of the painters 
called to Rome had had much experience with monumen- 
tal frescoes and all were relatively young. 

Even before Michelangelo’s ceiling and Last Judgment 
additions, the chapel’s scale, decoration, and iconography 
had established it as one of the grandest examples of 
Italian art. 

Perugino’s Crucifixion with the Virgin and Sts. John, 
Jerome, and Mary Magdalene (fig. 14.19) differs from 
Florentine representations of this scene in the absence of 
strong emotion. Christ hangs calmly on the cross and none 
of the saints betrays a trace of grief. We are surprised, 
moreover, to note that Mary Magdalen’s pose is almost a 
carbon copy of John’s; there is no difference between them, 
save for a slight change in the position of the clasped 


Opposite: 14.19. PERUGINO. Crucifixion with the Virgin and 
Sts. John, Jerome, and Mary Magdalene, c. 1482-85. Oil on panel, 
transferred to canvas: center, 39 15 /i6 x 22 V 4' 1 (101.5 x 56.5 cm); 
laterals, each 3 7 Vs x ll 7 /s" (95 x 30.1 cm). National Gallery of Art, 
Washington, D.C. (Mellon Collection). Probably commissioned by 
Bartolommeo Bartoli, Bishop of Cagli and Confessor of Pope Sixtus 
IV, who presented it to S. Domenico, San Gimignano. 

This painting was once in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, 
Russia. It was purchased with twenty other important paintings 
(including figs. 13.20 and 16.45), from the Soviet government by the 
American banker Andrew W. Mellon in 1931 as part of a nucleus of 
paintings to establish an American National Gallery of Art. Technical 
examination has revealed that a pounced drawing was used for the 
arms of Christ. 


hands. Perugino seems to have made a pattern book of 
stock poses and to have repeated them even within the 
same picture, such repetition helping to create the calm, 
lucid quality. In the final analysis, the color of the painting 
is so cool and silvery, the finish so sensitive and exact, 
and the mood so poetic that the absence of emotion seems 
completely appropriate. 

The fantastic rocks are characteristic of an eroded 
plateau in the upper Arno Valley, and the jagged profiles 
and sparse foliage against the sky are exploited for artistic 
effect, as are the floating S-curves of Christ’s loincloth. 
Such detailed realism shows the influence of Netherlandish 
painting, in particular, Hans Memling. Much of the 
picture’s effect is gained from the precision with which 
leaves, twigs, wildflowers, and a castle or two are repre- 
sented against the backgrounds of earth or sky. The 
flowers in the foreground are botanically accurate, and 
each has a symbolism relating to the altarpiece’s content. 

It seems that Memling also influenced Perugino as a por- 
traitist. Francesco delle Opere (fig. 14.20) is the direct 
ancestor of portraits by Perugino’s pupil Raphael, such as 
those of Angelo Doni and Maddalena Strozzi Doni (see 
figs. 16.49-16.50). The subject is placed behind a ledge — 
a typical Netherlandish device — on which he rests his 
hands, one of which holds a scroll bearing the motto 
TIMETE DEUM (“Fear God”). An expanse of sea forms 
the distant horizon, in front of which rises the carefully 
observed head, the hair streaming out naturally against the 
sky. This typical Perugino sky graduates from milky blue at 
the horizon to a clear, deep blue at the zenith. The balanc- 
ing of mass and void, the harmonizing of the contours of 
the sitter with those of the sloping hills and feathery trees, 
and the sense of quiet and easy control that seems to 


* 


372 


THE QUATTROCENTO 



emanate from Francesco delle Opere all mark a new stage 
in the development of portraiture. 

Like all central Italian painters who made their reputa- 
tions in the 1470s — save only Leonardo da Vinci — Perug- 
ino arrived at the threshold of the High Renaissance but 
did not cross it. The grand style emerged in Florence and 
developed in Rome, while in Perugia Perugino continued 
to paint his oval-faced Madonnas and serene landscapes. 
Ironically, Perugino outlived his pupil Raphael, one of the 
leading artists of the High Renaissance, by three years. 


14.20. PERUGINO. Francesco delle Opere. 1494. 

Panel, 20 7s X 167s 11 (51 x 42 cm). Uffizi Gallery, Florence. 



THE RENAISSANCE IN CENTRAL ITAL Y * 373 




Pintoricchio 

The works of the Perugian painter Bernardino di Betto (c. 
1454-1513), known by the nickname “Pintoricchio,” (the 
suffix “-icchio” means small, so “small painter”) are impressive 
accomplishments in pictorial representation, combined with 
an interest in clear narrative and sumptuous decorative 
detail. The success of his work cannot be gauged by repro- 
ductions, even in color, because so much of his paintings’ 
appeal depends on their large scale and relationship to 
the spaces for which they were created. A co-worker of 
Perugino in the Sistine Chapel frescoes, Pintoricchio later 
painted an apartment in the Vatican for Pope Alexander 
VI, as well as chapels and ceilings in Roman churches. His 
largest work is the fresco cycle in the Piccolomini Library 
of the Cathedral of Siena, commissioned in 1502 by Cardinal 
Francesco Piccolomini to celebrate the life of his uncle, 
Pope Pius II (figs. 14.1, 14.21-14.22). After the death of 
Alexander VI in 1503, Cardinal Piccolomini succeeded 


him as Pope Pius III, but lived to reign less than a month. 
Nevertheless, the fresco series financed by the Piccolomini 
heirs kept Pintoricchio busy until 1508. 

The library was built to house the manuscripts assem- 
bled by Pius II (Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini), one of the most 
learned humanists of his age. After his election as pope, he 
poured the revenues of the papacy into this library. The 
frescoes narrate an embellished version of his life before 
and after his election. Their flattery contrasts with the salty 
memoirs of the pope himself, which, though long suppressed 
except in an expurgated version, furnish us with a vivid 
account of mid-Quattrocento events. The ten compart- 
ments are framed by illusionistic pilasters with grotteschi 
decoration, and by jambs and arches decorated with simu- 
lated red and white marble paneling. The grotteschi motifs 
are derived from Pintoricchio’s visit to the Golden House 
of Nero in Rome, where he, like Ghirlandaio, carved his 
name into the ancient plaster to commemorate his visit. We 
look through the arches of this gigantic loggia into scenes 



14.21. View of the fresco program in the Piccolomini Library, ii Cathedral, Siena. 1503-8. Fresco. 

The exterior facade of the library, on the interior of Siena Cathedral, is decorated with marble architectural motifs and sculptures and a pair of 
bronze gates. The contract that Pintoricchio signed set the total price at 1,000 gold ducats; he received 200 ducats immediately to pay for pigment 
and gold leaf and another 100 ducats for what we might call "moving expenses” for himself and his assistants, one of whom was the young 
Raphael. Raphael provided Pintoricchio with compositional drawings for at least three of the ten scenes, including fig. 14.1. Pintoricchio received 
50 ducats when each large narrative scene was completed, and another 200 ducats when the job was complete. After the patron died in 1503, his 
heirs commissioned Pintoricchio to add an eleventh large narrative on the exterior of the library representing Cardinal Francesco Pintoricchio’s 
coronation as Pope Pius III. The library thus commemorates both Piccolomini popes, Pius II and Pius III. 


3 74 


THE QUATTROCENTO 



ENTRANCF WALT 


14.22. Icoaographic diagram of Pintoricchio’s fresco program in the Piccolomini Library, Cathedral, Siena. Diagram by Sarah Cameron Loyd, 
after Roettgen. For number 1, Departure of Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini for Basel, see fig. 14.1. 


from Aeneas Silvius’s life. The pageant-like incidents 
display a panoply of colorful clothing against fanciful 
architectural or landscape backgrounds, except when a 
recognizable setting was required by the narrative. 

In figure 14.1, the youthful Aeneas Silvius, secretary to 
a cardinal, is represented leaving Genoa for the Council of 
Basel, where his performance was so disloyal to the papacy 
that he had to do penance before Pope Eugenius IV. To the 
right we see ships at anchor in port, while at sea the cardi- 
nal’s galleys are lashed by a storm. Genoa, of course, never 
looked like this; Pintoricchio instead represented an Italian 
hill town with a Romanesque church and a castle on top 
of the hill. But if his representation of Genoa is derived 
from local experience, so is his storm. One of the earliest 
realistic storm scenes preserved, it is made convincing by 
the dark veils of rain, bent by the force of the wind, and 
the dramatic color of the thunderclouds. 

While Pintoricchio was working on the library frescoes, 
he also designed a panel for the inlaid marble floor of 
Siena’s Duomo. The cathedral’s paving, with narratives 
and allegories including an enormous Massacre of the 
Innocents by Matteo di Giovanni (see p. 364), took more 
than a century and involved many artists. Because the 
Sienese had been unsuccessful in expanding their cathedral 
in size, they apparently decided to ornament it as richly as 
possible. This unique floor is one of the results; while other 
cathedrals and churches have floors with a few figures 
surrounded by many panels of geometric patterning made 
largely of marble fragments, the Sienese floor is almost 
completely filled with narratives and figures. Unfortu- 
nately, over the centuries the scenes have been worn away 
by worshippers and visitors. 

The theme Pintoricchio was assigned was The Allegory 
of Fortune (fig. 14.23), a subject laden with the complex 
symbolism so popular with the humanists of the period. 



14.23. PINTORICCHIO. The Allegory of Fortune. 1505-6.